Archive for the 'Maghreb' Category

Cambyses and Carthage

November 24 2013

“Cambyses gave orders to his fleet to sail against Carthage, but the Phoenicians refused to obey. They submitted that they were bound by solemn engagements and that they would be guilty of a crime if they made war on a daughter-community. This unwillingness of the Phoenicians [to lend themselves to Cambyses’ designs against Carthage killed the project, since] [bracket in Toynbee] the remainder of the fleet was inadequate for the task. So, thanks to their Phoenician kinsmen, the Carthaginians escaped subjugation at Persian hands; for Cambyses felt it impolitic to try to coerce the Phoenicians, considering that they had come under Persian sovereignty voluntarily and that the naval power of the Persian Empire depended entirely on them” (Herodotus, Book III, chap. 19).

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Hashish 2

August 30 2013

The Assassins were a militant branch of the Ismāʿīlīs [Shiites who seceded from the main group in the eighth century because of their belief that Ismail, the son of the sixth Shiite imam, should have become the seventh imam, hence Seveners] who were organized by Hasan-i-Sabbāh about A.D. 1090. Their method of action was the assassination of princes; and they did their work impartially, for the list of their victims includes their fellow-Ismāʿīlī the Fātimid Caliph al-Āmir [the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphs ruled from the Atlantic to the Red Sea 909-1171], whom they assassinated in A.D. 1130, as well as a host of Sunnīs and Christians. The word “assassinate” itself is derived from the name of the Assassins, and their name is derived in turn from the hashīsh or hemp-fumes with which their desperadoes used to intoxicate themselves before making their attentats. For Hasan-i-Sabbāh and the Assassins, see Browne, E. G.: A Literary History of Persia, vol. ii (London 1906, Fisher Unwin), pp. 201-11, and Yule, Sir Henry: The Book of Ser Marco Polo, 3rd edition (London 1903, Murray, 2 vols.), vol. i, pp. 139-48.)

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

Stolen elections

August 15 2013

Dr Omar Ashour, Director, Middle East Graduate Studies Programme, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, August 14: “Chile 1973, Argentina post-1976, in Algeria 1992, in Tajikistan 1992, in Spain 1936.”

He wasn’t allowed to continue. Wikipedia list of “incidents involving direct voter fraud or in which the results were procedurally contested, massively or violently protested, or recognized as fraudulent by a reliable international organization”. That covers elections, like the recent one in Zimbabwe, which were contested by those with legitimate grievances, but not counter-coups of the kind that has been staged in Egypt.

List of coups d’état and coup attempts.

Has Egypt had a civil war since pharaonic times? It is hard to imagine one in that old country, but also hard to imagine any way out of this impasse.


United States Presidents and control of Congress: historical charts.


August 15 2013


Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.


Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

The resilience of the Caliphate

June 19 2013

The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.

A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.

When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.

Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russian expanded into Central Asia. His claim was most fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.

The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.

At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.

Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).

The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.

Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.

At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Two Maghrebis

May 1 2013

A belief that the whole life of the Universe was governed by “the Law of God” was the qiblah of a Judaic Weltanschauung that was the common heritage of the Orthodox Christian, the Western Christian, the Arabic Muslim, and the Iranic Muslim societies; and a theocentric philosophy of history derived from the intuitions or inspirations of the Prophets of Israel and Judah and the Iranian Prophet Zarathustra was bequeathed to Western Christendom in Saint Augustine’s De Civitate Dei and to the Arab Muslim World in Ibn Khaldūn’s Prolegomena to his History of the Berbers – two works of spiritual genius which unmistakably reflect one single common outlook and whose mutual affinity can only be accounted for by their indebtedness to a common source, since Ibn Khaldūn was as ignorant of his Christian predecessor and fellow Maghribī’s theodicy as Augustine was of Muqaddamāt that did not see the light till more than nine hundred years after the Christian North African Father’s death.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Albert Camus

April 21 2013

Film (called Albert Camus, not Algérie, mon amour), 1973, by Cécile Clairval. Director Paul Vecchiali.

A Roman cold war

March 16 2013

Professor William McNeill comments [circa 1952]: “I feel that the Rome-Carthage relationship is a far more convincing parallel to contemporary conditions than the Rome-Parthia relationship. In the relations between Rome and Parthia mortal fear and the density of contact were, I believe, absent.” The present writer’s comment on this comment is that it was not too much to expect of American and Russian statesmanship in the sixth decade of the twentieth century of the Christian Era that it should stabilize the relation between the United States and the Soviet Union on a Romano-Parthian basis and save it from degenerating into a Romano-Carthaginian “irrepressible conflict”. [...]

Or a Romano-Sassanid, I suppose.

The phrase “irrepressible conflict” was used by William H Seward at Rochester, NY on October 25 1858.

Seward was a US senator who had served as Governor of New York and would serve as Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. He argued that the political and economic systems of North and South were incompatible, and that, due to this “irrepressible conflict,” the “inevitable collision” of the two systems would eventually result in the nation becoming “either entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free-labor nation”. He hoped that this would be by the operation of natural forces over time, not by war.

Carthage was probably founded in the second half of the ninth century BC and was destroyed in the Third Punic War, 149-146 BC. Rome was founded in the middle of the eighth.

The Arsacid Parthian Empire lasted from 247 BC to AD 224. It replaced the Seleucid and was replaced, in the reign of Alexander Severus, by the Sassanid.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The rout of Pan-Islamism by Nationalism

November 21 2012

The apparent triumph of our Western Political Nationalism in the Islamic World since the beginning of the twentieth century of our era – and, conspicuously, since the outbreak of the general war of A.D. 1914-18 – is a remarkable testimony to the assimilative power of our Western Civilization and to the inability of the Islamic Civilization to hold its own against it. For the Pan-Islamic Movement, which was set in motion under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph ʿAbd-al-Hamīd (imperabat A.D. 1876-1909) as an attempt to enable the Islamic World to repel the Western offensive, was not only good strategy on its merits (on the principle that “union is strength”); it was also in the true line of the Islamic tradition; for, from the time of the Hijrah, which was the crucial event in the career of Muhammad and in the history of the institution that he founded, Islam had been a unitary society which embraced both the two Western social fields of Church and State; and, after the founder’s death, the unity of Islam in its political aspect had been incarnated in the Arab Caliphate [...]. Thus the Pan-Islamic attempt to restore the political unity of Islam, under the historic aegis of a Caliphate, in face of a formidable external menace to the Islamic Society’s very existence, might have seemed a promising stroke of statesmanship; and the rapid rout of Pan-Islamism by an irresistible outbreak of Nationalism in the Muslim ranks is a surprising denouement.


A Study of HIstory, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Imperialists, westernisers, intelligentsias

November 15 2012

Before the Industrial Revolution, Man had devastated patches of the biosphere. For instance, he had caused mountain-sides to be denuded of soil by felling the trees that previously had saved the soil from being washed away. Man had cut down forests faster than they could be replaced, and he had mined metals that were not replaceable at all. But, before he had harnessed the physical energy of inanimate nature in machines on the grand scale, Man had not had it in his power to damage and despoil the biosphere irremediably. Till then, the air and the ocean had been virtually infinite, and the supply of timber and metals had far exceeded Man’s capacity to use them up. When he had exhausted one mine and had felled one forest, there had always been other virgin mines and virgin forests still waiting to be exploited. By making the Industrial Revolution, Man exposed the biosphere, including Man himself, to a threat that had no precedent.

The Western peoples had begun to dominate the rest of mankind before the Industrial Revolution. In the sixteenth century the Spaniards had subjugated the Meso-American and Andean peoples and had annihilated their civilizations. In the course of the years 1757-64 the British East India Company had become the virtual sovereign of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. In 1799-1818 the British subjugated all the rest of the Indian subcontinent to the south-east of the River Sutlej. They had a free hand because they held the command of the sea and because in 1809 they made a treaty with Ranjit Singh, a Sikh empire-builder, in which the two parties accepted the line of the Sutlej as the boundary between their respective fields of conquest. In 1845-9 the British went on to conquer and annex the Sikh empire in the Punjab. Meanwhile, in 1768-74, Russia had defeated the Ottoman Empire decisively; in 1798 the French had temporarily occupied Egypt, and in 1830 they had started to conquer Algeria; in 1840 three Western powers and Russia had evicted the insubordinate Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, from Syria and Palestine. In 1839-42 the British had defeated China dramatically. In 1853 an American naval squadron compelled the Tokugawa Government of Japan to receive a visit from it. The Japanese recognized that they were powerless to prevent this unwelcome visit by force of arms.

These military successes of Western powers and of one Westernized Eastern Orthodox power, Russia, were won at the cost of occasional reverses. In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese were evicted forcibly from both Japan and Abyssinia. A British army that invaded Afghanistan in 1839-42 was annihilated. Yet by 1871 the Western powers and Russia were dominant throughout the World.

Even before the Industrial Revolution in Britain the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great, had recognized that the only means by which a non-Western state could save itself from falling under Western domination was the creation of a new-model army on the pattern of the Western armies that were being created in Peter’s time, and Peter also saw that this Western-style army must be supported by a Western-style technology, economy, and administration. The signal military triumphs of the Western powers and of a Westernized Russia over non-Westernized states between 1757 and 1853 moved the rulers of some of the threatened states to do what Peter the Great had done.

Eminent examples of Westernizing statesmen in the first century after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain are Ranjit Singh (ruled 1799-1839), the founder of the Sikh successor-state, in the Punjab, of the Abdali Afghan Empire; Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman Padishah’s viceroy in Egypt from 1805 to 1848; the Ottoman Padishah Mahmud II (ruled 1808-39); King Mongkut of Thailand (ruled 1851-68); and the band of Japanese statesmen that, in the Emperor’s name, liquidated the Tokugawa regime and took the government of Japan into its own hands in 1868. These Westernizing statesmen have had a greater effect on the history of the Oikoumenê than any of their Western contemporaries. They have kept the West’s dominance within limits, and they have done this by propagating, in non-Western countries, the modern West’s way of life.

While the achievements of all the Westernizers mentioned above are remarkable, the Japanese makers of the Meiji Revolution were outstandingly successful. They themselves were members of the hitherto privileged, though impoverished, traditional military class, the samurai; the Tokugawa Shogunate succumbed after offering only a minimal resistance; a majority of the samurai acquiesced peacefully in the forfeiture of their privileges; a minority of them that rebelled in 1877 was easily defeated by a new Western-style Japanese conscript army composed of peasants who, before 1868, had been prohibited from bearing arms.

Muhammad Ali and Mahmud II did not have so smooth a start. Like Peter the Great, they found that they could not begin to build up a Western-style army till they had liquidated a traditional soldiery. Peter had massacred the Muscovite Streltsy (“Archers”) in 1698-9; Muhammad Ali massacred the Egyptian Mamluks in 1811, and Mahmud II massacred the Ottoman janizaries in 1826. The new Western-style armies all gave a good account of themselves in action. Muhammad Ali began building his new army in 1819 and a navy in 1821; in 1825 his well-drilled Egyptian peasant conscript troops almost succeeded in re-subjugating for his suzerain Mahmud II the valiant but undisciplined Greek insurgents. The Greeks were saved only by the intervention of France, Britain, and Russia, who destroyed the Egyptian and Turkish fleets in 1827 and compelled Muhammad Ali’s son Ibrahim to evacuate Greece in 1828. In 1833 Ibrahim conquered Syria and was only prevented from marching on Istanbul by Russia’s intervention on Mahmud II’s behalf. Muhammad Ali’s army was more than a match for Mahmud’s because he had been able to make an earlier start in building it up. Mahmud could not start before 1826, the year in which he destroyed the janizaries; yet, in the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-9, his new-model peasant conscript army put up a much stiffer resistance than the old Ottoman army in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1768-74, 1787-92, and 1806-12.

Ranjit Singh, like his contemporary Muhammad Ali, engaged former Napoleonic officers as instructors. The British succeeded in defeating the Western-trained Sikh army in 1845-6 and again in 1848-9, but these two wars cost the British a greater effort and heavier casualties than their previous conquest of the whole of India outside the Punjab.

Rulers who set out to Westernize non-Western countries could not do this solely with the aid of a few Western advisers and instructors. They had to discover or create, among their own subjects, a class of Western-educated natives who could deal with Westerners on more or less equal terms and could serve as intermediaries between the West and the still un-Westernized mass of their own fellow-countrymen. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Ottoman Government had found this newly needed class, ready to hand, among Greek Ottoman subjects who were acquainted with the West through having been educated there or having had commercial relations with Westerners. Peter the Great in Russia, Muhammad Ali in Egypt, and the British in India had to create the intermediary class that they, too, needed. In Russia this class came to be called the intelligentsia, a hybrid word composed of a French root and a Russian termination. During the years 1763-1871, an intelligentsia was called into existence in every country that either fell under Western rule or saved itself from suffering this fate by Westernizing itself sufficiently to succeed in maintaining its political independence. Like the industrial entrepreneurs and the wage-earning industrial workers who made their appearance in Britain in the course of this century, the non-Western intelligentsia was a new class, and by the 1970s it had made at least as great a mark on mankind’s history.

The intelligentsia was enlisted or created by governments to serve these governments’ purposes, but the intelligentsia soon realized that it held a key position in its own society, and in every case it eventually took an independent line. In 1821 the ex-Ottoman Greek Prince Alexander Ypsilantis’s invasion of the Ottoman Empire taught the Ottoman Government that its Greek intelligentsia was a broken reed. In 1825 a conspiracy of Western-educated Russian military officers against Tsar Nicholas I was defeated and was suppressed, but it was a portent of things to come, and this not only in Russia but in a number of other Westernizing countries.

To live between two worlds, which is an intelligentsia’s function, is a spiritual ordeal, and in Russia in the nineteenth century this ordeal evoked a literature that was not surpassed anywhere in the World in that age. The novels of Turgenev (1818-83), Dostoyevsky (1821-81), and Tolstoy (1828-1910) became the common treasure of all mankind.

See the eighth volume of the Study and the Reith lectures.

Vasily Timm, The Decembrist revolt, painted 1853, St Petersburg, Hermitage

The scampering boy in the foreground appears in so many works of this period and somewhat earlier. In British prints he sometimes rolls a hoop and is followed by a scampering dog.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. [...]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture [...] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The old Islamic order

October 19 2012

The military vs the militant.

Plus ultra!

September 7 2012

In A.D. 1952 [...] the feat that had to be performed by Western navigators on the face of the waters of History was to pilot their vessel, without disaster, through perilous straits in the hope of making their way into more open waters beyond; and in this post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.

To paraphrase and anticipate, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: abjuring war without sinking into consumerism.

Sailing between the Pillars of Hercules: negotiating a spiritual passage between a Christian heresy, Communism, on one shore and a backward-looking Christian orthodoxy on the other.

In terms of our Mediterranean maritime simile, we may compare the social and spiritual enterprise to which these Western adventurers were committed in the twentieth century of the Christian Era with the navigational task confronting Hellenic mariners in the sixth century B.C. who had bidden farewell to their Ionian homeland and had set sail westward rather than submit to the alien dominion of un-Hellenic-minded Achaemenidae. Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis; but, if, by managing to steer their course along the narrow fairway through this first danger-zone, they should succeed in making the friendly port of Marseilles, they would not there find themselves at rest in the haven where they would be; [footnote: Ps. cvii. 30.] for their bold and skilful negotiation of the Straits of Messina would merely have carried them from the inner basin into the outer basin of the Mediterranean, without having liberated them from the imprisoning shores of their landlocked native sea.

I’m not sure why the open waters of the Atlantic would have been a haven for them. Nor did the Persians reach the outer basin. But the speculation is half-fanciful. Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans, or some of them, had abandoned Ionia. Where did they sail to, in fact? Some, perhaps, to Chios, some to Phocaean colonies on Corsica and elsewhere. Massalia or Massilia, Marseille (Marseilles, the English sometimes call it), was an existing Phocaean colony: it was an independent Greek city from 600 BC until Caesar conquered it in 49 BC. Some became the founders of Elea, or Velia, in Campania. Some eventually returned to Phocaea.

What were the actual political dangers of Scylla and Charybdis? The straits were controlled by Greeks (Messenians, at least on the Calabrian side), not Carthaginians.

If they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again from the sheltering harbour of their mother country’s daughter city in order to make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave, were visible embodiments of Imperial Carthage’s decree that no Hellenic vessel was ever to sail on through this golden gate leading out from the landlocked waters into the main.

Since Carthage controlled both sides of the straits, such a decree would not be surprising, but what source tells us that it was made? Were the Carthaginians in part protecting access to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde, the Azores? Some of these islands must have lain behind the tradition of the Hesperides, which Hercules had visited.

A Phoenician fleet had circumnavigated Africa by about 600 BC in the other direction. Herodotus describes how the Pharaoh Necho II sent out an expedition manned by Phoenician sailors. They sailed out of the Red Sea, rounded the Cape, and headed north to the Mediterranean. They paused on the African coast in two successive years to sow and harvest grain, and reached Egypt in the course of the third year.

A Carthaginian, Hanno, probably early in the 5th century BC, sailed to the Bight of Bonny, probably as far as Sherbro Island off Sierra Leone or Cape Palmas off Liberia. An account of his periplus was engraved in Punic on a bronze tablet set up in the temple of Baal at Carthage. It was translated into Greek. The translation survives, and is the only piece of Carthaginian literature we have. His account was used by Ptolemy and remained the standard guide for seafarers until the Portuguese explorations of the 15th century.

We have fragmentary evidence that a certain Euthymenes of Massalia sailed down the west coast of Africa as far as a river which was infested with crocodiles and whose waters were driven back by strong sea breezes. He thought that this river was the Nile. It may have been the Senegal River. We are not sure what century Euthymenes lived in, but there is a statue of him on the façade of the Marseille bourse.

Pytheas sailed from Massalia past the Pillars of Hercules to northern Europe, including Britain, c 325 BC. (The odd thing is that Queen Elizabeth II has never visited Greece.)

Polybius passed them after Carthage had been destroyed. Pliny the Elder tells us that he sailed down the west coast of Africa c 146 BC in ships lent to him by the destroyer, Scipio Aemilianus. He may have seen Mount Kakulima in Guinea.

So the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and presumably Persians were aware that Africa was surrounded by sea except where it was connected to Asia. Bartolomeu Dias sailed round the Cape in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed round most of Africa in 1497-98 on his way to India.

And here woe betide the Hellenic mariner who allowed himself [if he wanted to reach his haven] to be intimidated by his adversary’s veto into following the Theban Pindar’s poor-spirited advice to his Agrigentine patron Thêrôn.

“And now Thêrôn’s achievements have carried him to the limit: they have brought him to the Pillars of Hercules on his long voyage from home; and what lies beyond this terminus is out of bounds (ἂβατον) for all men, wise or witless. I will not pursue this venture. I should deserve to lose my senses if I did this senseless thing!” [Footnote: Pindar: Odes in Honour of Victors in the Olympic Games, Ode iii, ll. 43-45.]

Theron had reached a metaphorical Pillars of Hercules by his unsurpassable excellence in the Olympic chariot race in 476 BC.

Ne plus ultra! These were the very words that a forbidding Carthaginian statesmanship had been intending to extort from defeatist Hellenic lips; and, so long as this self-imposed Hellenic psychological inhibition held, no Hellenic explorer would ever sail on to test the truth of a later poet’s intuition that the untried passage of the Ocean would prove to be the avenue to a New World. [Footnote: Seneca: Medea, ll. 364-79 [...].] More than two thousand years were to pass before Columbus’s victorious defiance of the veto once imposed by a jealous Carthage was to be commemorated, in the device of “the dollar sign”, by the first sovereign on whose globe-encircling dominions the Sun could never set. On coins minted for Charles V out of American bullion, the antistrophic words Plus ultra! were triumphantly inscribed on a scroll displayed behind the minatory pair of pillars; and the moral was one which a twentieth-century Odysseus ought to take to heart if this series of episodes in the history of the art of navigation was an apt parable of the spiritual voyage on which his sails were set.

According to a Renaissance tradition, the pillars had been inscribed with the words Ne plus ultra as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further. There is no version of the phrase in Greek.

Luigi Marliano, doctor and advisor to the young King of Spain, proposed Plus Oultre for his motto as an encouragement to ignore the ancient warnings, take risks. (The OED can find no example of the phrase Ne plus ultra from before 1637, but that means in English sources.)

Plus ultra is on the present Spanish coat of arms as an inscription on a banner linking two pillars. Its history between Charles V and now includes use thus on the Spanish dollar (current in the Spanish Empire 1497-19th century; the main currency within Spain was the real). The Spanish dollar was contemporary with the German Thaler and was the basis of the American dollar.

The wrapped pillars do not appear on US dollars, but may be the origin of the US dollar sign.

Future post: global histories of anna, cent, centime, crown, cruzado, cruzeiro, denarius, dinar, dollar, drachma, escudo, florin, franc, Groschen, guinea, gulden, Kreuzer, krone, lira, livre, Mark, penny, peseta, peso, pfennig, piastre, pound, real, rial, ruble, rupee, Schilling, shekel, shilling, solidus, sovereign, talent, Thaler, zloty.

In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. If post-Christian Western souls did succeed in threading their way between these two immediate perils, they would owe their happy issue out of this affliction to an inspiration to take Religion as the mark on which they were once more to set their course; but an impulse to return to Religion would not in itself suffice to bring the Western pilgrims’ ships out of inland waters into open sea; for the call of Religion was being uttered in diverse tongues; [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 28.] and the questions to which the agnostic Western pioneer in search of a Christian oracle would have, at his own peril, to find an answer for himself, were:

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? … Have all the gifts of healing? … Do all interpret?” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 29-30.]

In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis. But, if, at this supremely critical point in his voyage, the pilgrim were to feel his heart failing, he might recover his courage and initiative by taking his oracle from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:

“Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 31.]

OED defines petrify as “turn (an organic body) into a stony concretion by gradually replacing its original substance with a calcareous, siliceous, or other mineral deposit”, which I suppose makes “petrify into a pillar of salt” not quite a mixed metaphor.

If a contrite humility was the first of the Christian virtues that were necessary for the Western pilgrim’s salvation, an indomitable endurance was the second. What was required of him at this hour was to hold on his course and to trust in God’s grace; and, if he prayed God to grant him a pilot for the perilous passage, he would find the bodhisattva [in the Mahayana, an enlightened being who has voluntarily delayed his entry into Nirvana in order to help his suffering fellow-beings] psychopompus [conductor of souls through the underworld] whom he was seeking in a Francesco Bernardone of Assisi, who was the most god-like soul that had been born into the Western World so far. A disciple of Saint Francis who followed faithfully enough in the saint’s footsteps to participate in the saint’s gift of receiving Christ’s stigmata would know, with the knowledge that comes only through suffering, that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Lord. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 3-7.] Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor. [Footnote: Ps. l. 9, in the Vulgate Latin text, Ps. li. 7, in the English Authorized Version.]

Seville Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), reign of Charles V

A footnote after “minatory pair of pillars” advises us to

See Raymond, Wayte: The Silver Dollars of North and South America (New York 1939, Wayte Raymond, Inc.) for photographs of dollars coined for the Spanish Crown, over a series of reigns ranging from Charles V’s (regnabat A.D. 1516-56) to the break-up of the Spanish Empire of the Indies in the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, which display the pair of pillars with the motto Plus ultra. On 46 of the 67 specimens (not counting “necessity coins” [small mintings of little value]) of “pillar type” coins here reproduced, including the earliest in the series, Charles V’s coin from Santo Domingo (p. 18, No. 1), the two words are inscribed on a single scroll linking the pillars (and passing behind an heraldic shield inserted between the pillars on coins of this type minted for the Bourbons). On fifteen specimens, each of the two pillars is wreathed in a separate scroll of its own, with “Plus” inscribed on the left-hand scroll and “Ultra” on the right-hand scroll. On six specimens, including Philip II’s dollar minted in Peru (reproduced in Supplement, p. 3, No. A 1), the motto is inscribed behind or above the pillars without being mounted on a scroll.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Critical Muslim

June 19 2012

Newish Granta-format quarterly published by the UK-based Muslim Institute.

Editors: Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab.

International advisory board: Karen Armstrong, William Dalrymple, Anwar Ibrahim, Arif Mohammad Khan, Bruce Lawrence, Ebrahim Moosa, Ashis Nandy.

I worried about the title at first, but I suppose the implication is fair.

Issue 1: The Arabs Are Alive

Issue 2: The Idea of Islam

Issue 3: Fear and Loathing

Issue 4: forthcoming on Pakistan


Critical Muslim 3

Imperial Messenger

May 12 2012

“Look, I’m a little confused. Do the math for me. You are wearing an Islamic head covering, you are obviously a religious person, but you were educated in an American university and now you are bringing the Internet to Kuwait. I don’t quite see how it all adds up.”

“A Russian journalist, circling the Coke machine, under the CNN screen, speaking Russian into a cell phone, in NATO headquarters, while Kosovo burned – my mind couldn’t contain all the contradictions.”

“The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been – but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.”

Three Friedman quotations, I assume accurate, in a review at New Left Project by David Wearing of Belén Fernández, The Imperial Messenger – Thomas Friedman at Work, New York, Verso, 2012.

Risibly inane. Friedman is never deep, and he is prejudiced against Arabs even if he believes in their decency as potential Americans. But he is not always as bad as this. He is right about some things, like America’s obsession with al-Qaeda.

Other titles in Verso’s Counterblasts series: Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte, The Imposter – BHL in Wonderland, and Derrick O’Keefe, Michael Ignatieff – The Lesser Evil?

Recent posts on Friedman at Pulse.

Earlier post here.

The significant experience

April 11 2012

In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953


March 8 2012

John F Guilmartin, review of David Abulafia, The Great Sea, A Human History of the Mediterranean, OUP, 2011, in The American Interest, March/April 2012. How it differs from Braudel.

The bay of Carthage

Braudel’s main works:

La Méditerranée et le monde Méditerranéen a l’époque de Philippe II, 3 volumes, 1949 (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; there is also a one-volume abridgement)

Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe siècle, 3 volumes, 1967, 1979, 1979 (Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century)

L’identité de la France, 2 volumes, 1986 (unfinished, posthumous) (The Identity of France)

Grammaire des civilisations, 1987 (a world history, posthumous) (A History of Civilizations)

Les mémoires de la Méditerranée, 1998 (posthumous) (The Mediterranean in the Ancient World)

“[W]hen I think of the individual, I am always inclined to see him imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself has little hand, fixed in a landscape in which the infinite perspectives of the long term stretch into the distance both behind him and before.” (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World)

The World and the West

March 6 2012

This is from the first of the 1952 BBC radio Reith Lectures, given under the title The World and the West. I posted the fourth, The Far East and the West, here. Background on Reith Lectures here.

In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.

Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.

This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.

That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.

1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.

The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.

In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west [...], has had the significant experience

is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.

I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.

The lectures were published in book form as

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

Babylonic militarism

January 11 2012

When a Judah that had just escaped falling into Assyrian hands in 700 B.C. was carried away captive in 597 and 586 B.C. by the Assyrians’ Babylonian heirs, the only provinces of the Syriac World that still remained unscathed by Babylonic militarism were the Phoenicians’ colonial domain in the Western basin of the Mediterranean, which was insulated by the Sea, and Arabia Felix (the Yaman [sic]), which was insulated by Arabian deserts (the Najd and the Hijāz).

The Assyrians had controlled Egypt, but the neo-Babylonians did not. The post-Assyrian Neo-Babylonian Empire used to be called Chaldean. Chaldea is in southern Mesopotamia, Assyria was the north. Thus “Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:28, 11:31, 15:7) in the period of Sumer.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Carthage and Venice

January 5 2012

In [...] managing to retain her rank as a Great Power in an Hellenic or Hellenizing World in spite of the sudden vast increase in the scale of Hellenic life at the transition from a pre-Alexandnne to a post-Alexandrine Age of Hellenic history, Carthage achieved something that Venice failed to achieve at the transition from a Late Medieval to an Early Modern Age of Western history. Circa 281 B.C. Carthage was a Great Power still, whereas Venice, circa A.D. 1559, was lucky to find herself still independent and in possession of an empire in the Levant and on the Italian mainland that was now dwarfed by the gigantic stature of Great Powers of a higher calibre that had loomed up all around her. [...] By A.D. 1559 Venice had long since met her Ottoman fate, whereas Carthage was not to meet her Roman fate till 264 B.C.; and by A.D. 1559 Venice had also felt the adverse economic effects of the Portuguese conquest of the Indies and the Spanish conquest of the Americas, whereas the Macedonian conquest of the Achaemenian Empire had no similar adverse economic effects on Carthage’s monopoly of the African and Iberian hinterlands of her “wooden curtain”.

Carthage belonged to the “Syriac society” which Greece was overwhelming in the Levant.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Armenians and Algerians

December 22 2011

The French National Assembly, probably with the Armenian vote in mind for the presidential elections next year, has voted in favour of a bill that would make it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Anatolia, during the First World War was genocide. The bill goes to the Senate next year. There was an earlier attempt, starting in 2006, which failed.

Countries which officially recognise the killings as genocide already include France (1998), Italy (2000) and Germany (2005), but not the UK, US or Israel. In the US, there have been resolutions in the House of Representatives and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and many at state level, but nothing signed by a president. As far as I know, no country before France has attempted to make denial a crime, unless it is a crime in Armenia.

Turkey’s reactions to all this usually have a third-world ring to them, though I avoid using the word genocide too glibly myself. Erdoğan, meanwhile, has counter-accused France of genocide in Algeria. There may well be justification for that, in relation to the settlers’ behaviour there from 1830 onwards: see this recent FT review of books on Algeria.

Toynbee was one of the people responsible for documenting the Armenian massacres in 1915 and brought them to the attention of the UK Parliament. There is a category here on them. Here is a post from last year.

Figure humaine

December 16 2011

Painting by Louay Kayali (1934-78) from the weblog of Imad Moustapha, who until a few days ago was the Syrian ambassador to the US. There is a lot of Syrian art on it. A Kayali site is here. Wikipedia.

Poulenc’s Figure humaine is a set of eight settings of poems by Paul Éluard. The notes to a new recording describe it as “a secret hymn to the French resistance”. The last poem is called Liberté.

The first is De tous les printemps du monde:

“Of all the spring times in the world
This is the most vile.
Of all my modes of being,
The trusting one is the best.

The grass lifts the snow
Like the stone from a tomb,
But I sleep through the storm
And I wake with clear eyes.

The short spell draws slowly to its close,
The roads had to pass
Through my most secret hiding-places
Before I could greet anyone.

I do not hear the monsters speaking:
I know them, they have said it all.
I see only beautiful faces,
Good faces, sure of themselves.

Sure of soon destroying their masters.”

My translation.

De tous les printemps du monde,
Celui-ci est le plus laid
Entre toutes mes façons d’être
La confiante est la meillure

L’herbe soulève la neige
Comme la pierre d’un tombeau
Moi je dors dans la tempête
Et je m’éveille les yeux clairs

Le lent le petit temps s’achève
Où toute rue devait passer
Par mes plus intimes retraites
Pour que je rencontre quelqu’un

Je n’entends pas parler les monstres
Je les connais ils ont tout dit
Je ne vois que les beaux visages
Les bons visages sûrs d’eux mêmes.

Sûrs de ruiner bientôt leurs maîtres.

BBC Symphony Chorus, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, conducted by Stephen Jackson, June 2003.

The Garamantes way

November 14 2011

A forgotten pre-Islamic culture in the Fezzan in Libya, from 500 BC for over a millennium. Guardian, November 5.

Libya 1911-69

October 20 2011

Beautiful-sounding Arabic and interesting footage, from a monarchist, perhaps from Benghazi.

Postscript, October 21 – he’s more than a monarchist, he is the heir to the Senussi throne.

Culture and politics in Algeria

October 13 2011

Post at On an Overgrown Path.

Michel Dor’s photographs of the bay of Algiers. There are other Algerian galleries from him at the same site.

Marseilles-Alger-Dakar: a colonial route.

The Arab return

March 9 2011

Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”

There is a bigger picture here. After the Abbasid Caliphate, the Arab countries were to a great extent controlled by non-Arabs: Mongols, Mamluks, Persians, Ottoman Turks, Europeans and at the end by unrepresentative elites supported by the West. Libya has been a maverick, but the Berbers, too, had come under Ottoman and European control. This is, in a way, an attempt at a return.

Tahrir Square 2

February 22 2011

When you know the faces and that emphatic, staccato, vehement Egyptian way of speaking, Egypt doesn’t feel like just another place in turmoil (clashes between supporters of X and anti-government protesters).

A friend who was in Tahrir Square emailed me on January 18:

“Things are boiling even more these days in Cairo. There will be some demonstrations on Jan 25 that people say will be a revolution, may be a civil war.”


Revolutionary years, not only in Egypt:


Egypt felt a reverberation from France. Napoleon invaded in person and was defeated by Nelson in person in the Battle of the Nile (1798). Afterwards, the reforming Ottoman viceroy Muhammad Ali (ruled 1805-48) had French military and scientific manuals and other works translated into Arabic. Much of the French infusion was managed by Rifa’a el-Tahtawi.

I have a post here (a sketchy passage by Toynbee) about French law and culture in Egypt. I can remember meeting a old Francophone Egyptian in Cairo.


1848 did not, as far as I know, have an impact on Egypt (though it happened to mark the end of the reign of Muhammad Ali), but it is a parallel to 2011 (and 1989) in the way revolution spread from place to place. The January trigger then was Palermo – not two hundred miles away from Tunis.


1919 had been a series of nationalist uprisings against the British, who had been in Egypt since 1882. In 1914 the British-occupied Khediviate became a British-protected Sultanate. Turkish influence was ended. In 1922, after the 1919 agitations, it became an “independent” kingdom. Even then, some British troops remained until 1936, and in the Canal Zone until 1954. It is hard, from these facts, to see how 1919 can have felt like a revolution, but it did to the Egyptians. I sketched the story of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Nasser here.

The same year saw the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, the short-lived Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, the Amritsar massacre in India, police and other strikes in Britain, and convulsions in Ireland, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.

After the uprisings, the square, which had been called Midan Ismaileyya, after Khedive Ismail, who had commissioned the new downtown district’s plan, became popularly known as Midan al-Tahrir (Liberation Square). It was not officially renamed until the revolution of 1952. Other demonstrations have taken place there, including the bread riots in 1977 and the demonstrations against the Iraq War in 2003.


1952 was the revolution led by Nasser that removed King Farouk (seventeen years before Idris was removed in Libya) and installed the present military establishment.

(The first president was not Nasser but Muhammad Naguib. Farouk was not the last king: he was briefly succeeded by Fuad II.)

Between Nasser (died 1970) and Mubarak was only Sadat. Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel at Camp David and was assassinated.

Egyptian public morale collapsed in June 1967 (Six-Day War). It had been pumped up by Nasser and was high for good cultural reasons as well, and it was knocked back further in October 1973 (Yom Kippur War) and (though Egyptians are peaceful people) September 1978 (Camp David). Until January 25 2011 it had never quite recovered.


That’s what Americans fear, but no scowling demagogue got off a plane. Unless Yusuf al-Qaradawi is that.

Some educated Egyptians have a cultural fascination with Iran, the great or forbidden Other, and the only country in what Americans call “the region” which is similar to it in size of population. But Egypt has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979. Electronic alliances are being formed.

The sclerotic era of Mubarak began in October 1981.


From an old post:

“[People Power in the Philippines] was a T-shirted revolution before Twitter, a colour-coded revolution before mobile phones and email, a velvet revolution practically before fax. There had been peaceful protests and non-cooperation in India, but they were surely more manipulated and orchestrated.

“Since 1986, the Philippine example has been at the back of our minds wherever there have been large-scale, mainly peaceful popular protests. Václav Havel has said that it was in the minds of European demonstrators in 1989. The days leading up to the deposition of Ceauşescu in Romania reminded one very strongly of the Philippines. Was it in the minds of the Chinese students in the same year? It was in our minds this year [2009] during the protests that began after the Iranian presidential elections.”

Before January 25 Egypt had lost its standing in the Arab world, which had been so high in the ’50s and ’60s. Qatar, as Robin Yassin-Kassab has said, counted for more.

Egyptians must be charmed now to think that at least a few young people all over the oppressed world, not only in the Middle East, are looking up to them.


The obvious, though very far from exact, precedent. The chain of revolutions got going in the second half. In Russia, two years later, a system collapsed with little pressure from below.

Egypt had transferred its loyalty from the USSR to the US before this, under Sadat.


Removal of Mubarak. Now the people are dealing with the military in uniform, face to face.


Nobody who witnessed this revolution at a distance will forget the moving words of Wael Abbas, Ahdaf Soueif, Khalid Abdalla, Wael Ghonim and many others, and nameless people.

Blair on February 2: Hosni Mubarak was “immensely courageous and a force for good”.

As always, there are those in the Middle East, the homeland of conspiracy theory, who are hinting at forces – America, Israel, other – controlling these events. Many others, especially the rich, are saying: “We are not ready for democracy, the West should stop lecturing us” and “Let the West dream”. They are right. But the revolution happened in spite of Obama’s ditherings and, thanks to them, Egyptians feel that Tahrir Square was their own achievement.

I had thought that the relevance of Facebook and Twitter to real politics had been exaggerated. I was wrong, but I was in no doubt from January 25 that it was over for Mubarak.

“The World Bank says escalating food prices have pushed 44 million more people into poverty since last June.”

The median age in Egypt is 24. More than a quarter of males under 30 with degrees are unemployed.

Egypt had been “growing” at 6% a year. It’s said that revolutions usually happen in countries which are growing economically. Energy which had been pent up is released and destroys the system which produced the growth. Russia in 1917? That kind of growth, in any case, can make things temporarily worse, and perhaps permanently less secure, for the masses.

Real revolutions aren’t gang warfare waged at state level. They are a return to truth. Will the energy produce a later wave of expansionist Islamism or be wholly dissipated in manoeuvring, compromises and renewed corruption?

Tahrir Square became a university in which different classes and types in Egyptian society met. That moment will not return.

Egyptians, such as Waseem Wagdi, not reporters, were the best exponents of their condition.

However it ends, Tahrir Square has changed the Middle East politically, geopolitically and psychologically. [Postscript 2013 11 28: Is that true?] The revolution was not Islamist or socialist or especially anti-American or even anti-Zionist. There was no utopianism, no desire for an absolute break with the past, except in one respect. No exaggeration. Not even a leader. No “nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism” (Robin Yassin-Kassab). These facts may, perhaps, offer some grounds for hope.

Egypt has minorities, but not deep sectarian divisions. Robin Yassin-Kassab: “The answer to sectarian hatred is democracy. The answer to Arab hatred of Israel is for Israel to change itself from a violent ethnocracy to a multicultural democracy.”

On the Muslim Brotherhood: “First, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is noted for its aversion to violence. Ayman Zawahri and the al-Qa’ida types broke away from the Brothers for precisely this reason. Second, the Brotherhood by its own admission has not led the revolution, no more than Muhammad al-Barade’i or any other leader. Third, the Brotherhood is part of the revolution like almost every other segment of Egyptian society, because it is part of society, a venerable institution and a mass movement. If the revolution has an ideology, it’s one of representation and dignity, of democracy in other words. The Brotherhood, like Barade’i, has called for an interim national government with no NDP presence, followed by elections. If the Brothers win elections, they will not be in a position to establish a new dictatorship. Fourth, the most retrograde elements of Islamism, those that lead to nihilistic terrorism and sectarian hatred, are nourished by the social stagnation of dictatorship. Finally, it is not for British or American chatterers to decide whether the Egyptians are ready for freedom. The Egyptians are demanding freedom, and are making the chatterers irrelevant.”

Few people outside Egypt even know the name of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader. It is Mohammed Badie.

Many Egyptians who before January 25 did not speak in political terms nevertheless showed a pre-revolutionary mood in the way they spoke about their personal lives. But nobody predicted the certainty which they found in themselves in Tahrir Square.

A comment on this blog on February 1: “Day after day people lost the value of their own lives and now they are willing to give these lives away [...].”

Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”

The best foreign reporting, aside from some blogs, was from CNN. Reporting, not analysis. The Egyptians will remember it. It was less naive than some about the role of the army. Al Jazeera was good, too. I am not an expert on Egypt, but many of the Western chatterers seemed to know nothing about it at all.


Egypt had been bursting for some kind of freshness in its politics for many years. Mubarak should have left in 2005. Cairo, too, in its planning. There is hardly a park or tree anywhere. There are little more than rough pavements by the Nile, next to noisy roads, along which people can stroll. Its physical charm has been squeezed out of it. This has happened in some degree in every old city on earth. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth, to judge from any account of the banks of the Nile, Cairo was a seductive place. But Egypt wasn’t a republic then.

Most of Tahrir Square has been a building site for as long as I can remember it and was not accessible by the demonstrators. You didn’t see it on the news. What you saw was a roundabout.

It isn’t clear what the work is intended to lead to. Paved area? Garden? The only thing that is clear is that the project has stalled because of corruption. Somebody, deserving or otherwise, has not been paid. Tahrir Square is a minor scandal of Mubarak’s Egypt.

Nearly all shots of the square show the giant Mogamma office building, a gift of the Soviet Union completed just before the 1952 revolution.


“[We] who were strong in love.

Frankish tortoise, Visigothic and Arab hares

July 22 2010

The organized and purposeful military campaigns of the Muslim Arabs were very different from the half automatic and barely conscious pressure of their ancestors against the yielding desert-frontier of a decaying Seleucid Empire in the second and the last century B.C. They are more comparable to the momentary Arab occupation of the Syrian, Egyptian, and Anatolian territories of the Roman Empire under Palmyrene leadership in the third century of the Christian Era. But they utterly surpassed both these anticipatory reconnaissances in the potency of their driving-force. [Footnote: This immense superiority, in potency, of the third of the three Arab offensives against the Hellenic World was almost certainly due to the most conspicuous of its distinctive features: that is to say, to the fact of its having been launched under the auspices of Islam. [...]] While the Arab encroachments in the last two centuries B.C. had got no farther than the line of the Lebanon and the Orontes, [footnote: See Jones, A. H. M.: The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford 1937, Clarendon Press), pp. 255-6.] and the momentary Palmyrene conquests in the third century of the Christian Era had come to a halt at the banks of the Nile and of the Black Sea Straits, the Muslim Arab conquerors penetrated as far as their Palmyrene predecessors towards the north-west, while on the south-west they left them far behind. In Asia Minor the Constantinopolitan Government succeeded – at the price of abandoning its commitments and cutting its losses on all other fronts – in pushing the Muslim Arabs back from the line of the Straits to the line of the Taurus and holding them there at the cost of grievously overstraining and fatally deforming the nascent body social of Orthodox Christendom. In Africa, however, the wave of Muslim Arab conquest swept on from the Nile to the Atlantic – meeting and overpowering and, carrying along with it the lesser wave of Berber aggression which was at that time breaking, likewise for the third time, upon the remnant of the African domain which Rome had inherited from Carthage.

Justinian had expelled the Vandals from the Maghreb.

The two earlier waves of Berber aggression had been, first, the Numidian intervention in the Second Punic, or Hannibalic, War and the Numidian King Jugurtha’s war with Rome (these are taken together) during the Hellenic “Time of Troubles” and, second, renewed pressure during the shorter crisis of the middle of the third century CE.

At the Straits of Gibraltar the united Arab and Berber wings of the Afrasian Nomad forces collided with the epigoni of the Visigoths, who had settled down in the Iberian Peninsula at the end of a Völkerwanderung which had carried them across the whole breadth of the Roman Empire from a starting-point on the Great Western Bay of the Eurasian Steppe. When these Gothic pupils of the Eurasian Nomads now encountered the Afrasian Nomad invaders of the Roman Empire at a point on the Empire’s extreme western verge which was almost equally remote from the original mustering-grounds of both the rival war-bands, it was the Afrasian Nomadism that was victorious; [footnote: The victory of the Afrasian Nomads over the Visigothic representatives of the Eurasian Nomadism at Xeres [modern Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia], on the Iberian threshold of Europe, in A.D. 711, has the same piquancy as the victory of the Indian over the African elephants at Raphia, on the Egyptian threshold of Africa, in 217 B.C.] for the united Arab-Berber forces were not flung back from the Straits of Gibraltar by Roderick in A.D. 711 as the Arabs were flung back from the Bosphorus by Constantine IV in A.D. 677 and again in A.D. 718 by Leo Syrus. Scattering the Goths like chaff, the Arabs and Berbers pressed on across the Pyrenees and reached the banks of the Rhône and the Loire before they collided with the Franks and fared as ill at their hands in A.D. 732 on the road to Tours as the ancestors of the Arabs’ discomfited Gothic adversaries had fared at the same Frankish hands at Vouillé in A.D. 507. It was characteristic of the heavy-footed gait of the sedentary North European barbarians that, at dates which were two hundred and twenty-five years apart, they should win their successive victories over their mobile rivals from the Ukraine and the Hijāz on battlefields that were something less than twenty miles distant from one another as the crow flies. [Footnote: The battle between the Austrasians and the Arabs which is traditionally known by the name of Tours seems actually to have been fought in the neighbourhood of Old Poictiers [sic], in the angle between the rivers Elain and Vienne.] Charles Martel allowed the Arabs to come that much nearer to the home territory of the Frankish Power in the basins of the Seine and the Rhine [footnote: Charles Martel’s sluggishness in marching to the help of the Aquitanians in A.D. 732 may be compared with the sluggishness of the Spartans in coming to the Athenians’ aid in 490 B.C. and again in 479 B.C.] than Clovis had allowed the Visigoths to advance in the same direction before marching out to defeat them; but the event was the same. At Tours in A.D. 732, as at Vouillé in A.D. 507, the immovable Franks remained masters of the field.

These Frankish victories over Goths and Arabs were a double triumph for the tortoise who had been content to crawl from the Rhine to the Loire during the time that it had taken one hare to sprint from the Ukraine, and another to sprint from the Hijāz, to the tortoise’s doorstep in Aquitaine. In this contest between the barbarians for the division of the Hellenic dominant minority’s territorial spoils the race was certainly not to the swift, though the battle may have been to the strong. [Footnote: Ecclesiastes ix. 11.] But this revelation of the relative strengths of the rival barbarian war-bands is not the main interest of the two battles in which they tried conclusions with one another. The outstanding historical event to which the battles of Vouillé and Tours bear witness is not the discomfiture of the Goths and the Arabs by the Frank, but the collapse of the resistance of the Roman Power which had been the common arch-adversary of all the three combatants. By the time when, in the heart of the Orbis Romanus, the war-bands from beyond one of the four anti-barbarian frontiers encountered and defeated – on derelict Roman ground – the war-bands from beyond each of the other three frontiers, it was manifest that the third of the three attempts of the external proletariat to take the Hellenic universal state by storm had been completely and definitively successful.

The four frontiers are defined in an earlier passage as

the front against the sedentary barbarians of Continental Europe from the North Sea coast to Transylvania; the front against the Eurasian Nomads (and the Nomadicized sedentary intruders upon the Nomads’ ranges) in the Lower Danubian bay and the Middle Danubian enclave of the Great Eurasian Steppe; the front against the barbarians in the interior of North West Africa (Nomads on the Sahara and highlanders in the Atlas); and the front against the Arabs beyond the desert-coast of Syria who constituted the Asiatic wing of the Afrasian Nomad forces.

The two earlier attempts to take the universal state had been, first, the series of attacks – by Sarmatians, Arabs, Numidians, Cimbri, Teutones, Suevi – in the last two centuries BC during the Hellenic “Time of Troubles” (he treats this as a single crisis) and, second, the attacks – by Goths, Arabs, Berbers, Franks, Alemanni – of the crisis of the middle of the third century CE.

Perhaps one could quibble with this by pointing out that, according to Toynbee’s own system, the first attempt was an attack on the society before it had had a universal state (the Roman Empire) imposed on it.

In the third attempt

the action opened on the Eurasian front, where the eruption of the Hun Nomads blew the nomadicized [lower case this time] Goths right off the Steppe into the far interior of the Roman body politic – as rocks and trees are uprooted and hurled through the air by an exploding shell. From the end of the fourth century to the end of the sixth the pressure continued to be heavier on this front than on any other, as the ebb of the Hun wave was followed by the onrush of the Avar wave, and the vacuum left by the violent propulsion of the Goths was filled by the gentle infiltration of the Slavs. It was only in the seventh century, when the onslaughts of pagan Huns and Avars were outmatched by the demoniac outbreak of the Muslim Arabs, that the main pressure shifted from the Eurasian front to the Arabian.

Charles de Steuben, Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732, Musée du Château de Versailles, Wikimedia Commons

A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939

The uses of torpor

June 6 2010

In a dolorous twentieth century any citizen of a Western community that was then still partitioned among a host of warring parochial states would have been content to see Arcadius and Honorius slumber harmlessly on their thrones without itching to see their sleep disturbed by the pernicious activities of wakeful neighbours; for in an age in which Gibbon’s Julian had turned out to be a Phocas, and his Semiramis a Sennacherib, political dynamism was at a discount. [Footnote: “Benevolent government is rarely associated with a ruler whose mind is over-alert and intelligence over-developed. Benevolence is most commonly found in rulers who are easy-going or who behave as if they were. The worst defect in the alert-minded ruler is that he lays burdens upon his subjects which are greater than they can bear; and he does this because his mental vision outranges theirs and because his insight penetrates to the ends of things at the beginnings – with disastrous consequences for them. The Prophet says: ‘Go the pace of the weakest among you’; and in this context the exponent of the Divine Law prescribes in the case of rulers that excess of intelligence should be avoided ... because it produces oppression and bad government and makes demands upon the people which are contrary to their nature. ... It is evident from this that intellectuality and intelligence is a fault in an administrator, because this is an excess of mental activity – just as dull-wittedness is an excess of mental torpidity. The two extremes are to be deprecated in every attribute of Human Nature. The ideal is the Golden Mean. ... And for this reason a man who is over-intellectual has Satanic attributes attributed to him and is called ‘Satan’, ‘possessed by Satan’, and so on” (Ibn Khaldūn: Muqaddamāt, Book I, chap. xxiv).]

Walter Bagehot would have agreed. The English Constitution was published in 1867, the year of the Second Reform Act, and examines a usually unexamined thing, which seemed to exist in two dimensions or at two speeds, ancient and modern. Asks how an old and delicately-balanced wine will travel into the future. Short extracts don’t do it justice. These are taken from the fifth edition, Kegan Paul, 1888, which contains the long Introduction (“The Poplars, Wimbledon, June 20, 1872”) to the second edition.

“It is true that a completely new House of Lords, mainly composed of men of ability, selected because they were able, might very likely attempt to make ability the predominant power in the State, and to rival, if not conquer, the House of Commons, where the standard of intelligence is not much above the common English average. But in the present English world such a House of Lords would soon lose all influence. People would say, ‘it was too clever by half,’ and in an Englishman’s mouth that means a very severe censure. The English people would think it grossly anomalous if their elected assembly of rich men were thwarted by a nominated assembly of talkers and writers. Sensible men of substantial means are what we wish to be ruled by, and a peerage of genius would not compare with it in power.”

“A great part of the ‘best’ English people keep their mind in a state of decorous dulness. They maintain their dignity; they get obeyed; they are good and charitable to their dependants. But they have no notion of play of mind: no conception that the charm of society depends upon it. They think cleverness an antic, and have a constant though needless horror of being thought to have any of it. So much does this stiff dignity give the tone, that the few Englishmen capable of social brilliancy mostly secrete it. They reserve it for persons whom they can trust, and whom they know to be capable of appreciating its nuances. But a good government is well worth a great deal of social dulness. The dignified torpor of English society is inevitable if we give precedence, not to the cleverest classes, but to the oldest classes, and we have seen how useful that is.”

“Men who study the structure of Parliament, not in abstract books, but in the concrete London world, wonder not that the landed interest is very powerful, but that it is not despotic. I believe it would be despotic if it were clever, or rather if its representatives were so, but it has a fixed device to make them stupid. The counties not only elect landowners, which is natural, and perhaps wise, but also elect only landowners of their own county, which is absurd. There is no free trade in the agricultural mind; each county prohibits the import of able men from other counties.”

“Accordingly the House of Commons, representing only mind coupled with property, is not equal in mind to a legislature chosen for mind only, and whether accompanied by wealth or not. But I do not for a moment wish to see a representation of pure mind; it would be contrary to the main thesis of this essay. I maintain that Parliament ought to embody the public opinion of the English nation; and, certainly, that opinion is much more fixed by its property than by its mind. The ‘too clever by half’ people who live in ‘Bohemia,’ ought to have no more influence in Parliament than they have in England, and they can scarcely have less.”


In a previous note in the same volume Toynbee gave his Muqaddamāt source as

French translation by de Slane, Baron McG. (Paris 1863-8, Imprimerie Impériale, 3 vols.) [...].

I assume that he is referring to that edition here and that the translation from the French is his own.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Persia, Napata and Carthage

April 6 2010

According to Herodotus, Cambyses, after his conquest of Egypt, aspired to round off the Achaemenian Empire in North Africa by conquering the Napatan Kingdom up the Nile and the oases of the Libyan Desert and the Carthaginian Empire beyond the Syrtes. Operations against Napata and the Oasis of Ammon were actually attempted with disastrous results. Simultaneously, Cambyses “ordered the fleet to sail against Carthage; but the Phoenicians declined to carry the order out. They explained that they were bound to the Carthaginians by solemn pledges, and that they would be committing an atrocity if they made war upon their own colonists. The Phoenicians’ refusal was decisive, since the remainder of the fleet by itself was no match for the Carthaginian forces. Accordingly, the Carthaginians escaped the Persian yoke; for Cambyses shrank from coercing the Phoenicians, who had become members of the Persian Empire of their own free will and were the mainstay of the Persian Navy.” (Herodotus: Book III, ch. 19.)

The Persian navy today and its commanders since 1932.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

The end of freshness

March 18 2010

“Journeys, those magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, will never again yield up their treasures untarnished. A proliferating and overexcited civilization has broken the silence of the seas once and for all. The perfumes of the tropics and the pristine freshness of human beings have been corrupted by a busyness with dubious implications, which mortifies our desires and dooms us to acquire only contaminated memories.

“Now that the Polynesian islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of travelling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown in the face of mankind.”


John and Doreen Weightman, translators, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, Jonathan Cape, 1973; first French edition Librairie Plon, 1955.


December 18 2009

In a taped conversation in London in 1972 or ’3, Daisaku Ikeda asked Toynbee what his motto was.

In one Latin word, because I was educated in Latin and Greek: laboremus. Let us do our work. In the year 211 the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus died in the city of York in the north of England. A Roman emperor had every day to give a watchword to his troops, and on the day on which Septimius Severus died in York he gave the watchword laboremus. Let us do our work. He was a very sick man at the time. Also, he was a native of Libya, which is a warm country, and he was on campaign, military campaign, in a very cold country, the north of Britain. But though he was dying, he wanted to go on doing his work till the very end of his life, so this watchword he gave on the last day of his life I take as my motto. [...] He felt his responsibilities, at the head of this great empire.

He was campaigning against the Picts. Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 77, Section 15 says that before dying, on February 4 211, he advised his sons Caracalla and Geta, who were with him, to “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men”.

Toynbee died in a nursing home in York on October 22 1975, having worked until the day, in the previous year, when he was incapacitated by a stroke.

Taped conversation between Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, London, May 1972 or May 1973

The published version, which does not contain this passage, was

Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda; Richard L Gage, editor; Choose Life, A Dialogue, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

October 25 2009

This was a Depression, not Crash, song, but it will do to mark the anniversary.

The market slid on Thursday October 24 1929, but the catastrophic collapse occurred on Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29.

The song was written in 1931. The lyrics were by Yip Harburg, the music by Jay Gorney.

Here sung by the little-known Charlie Palloy, with guitar and his orchestra, recorded in 1932. He gets the song’s grim tread better than its better-known exponent, Bing Crosby.

Bing Crosby. I’m not sure of the date.

Maghrebian nihilism

April 25 2009

You often hear people in the Maghreb say: “There is nothing for me here. Nothing.” These people may or may not try to migrate illegally. They mean it: there is no work here. Nothing.

There is also a cultural unease. Some uneducated young people have absorbed into their bones the feeling that life is better in Europe, so they can no longer be happy, even for a moment, at home. A few of those will have their minds molested by “religious” leaders.

The unemployment problem is worse with graduates, because they are less likely to find work which is acceptable to them. I knew some when I first visited Tunisia in 1977. Whether or not they had studied in France, they were very well-educated, but sometimes with a chip on their shoulder. They were too good for their own country and Europe wasn’t good enough for them.

One of them was a woman called Dalenda. Her name is common locally and comes from Cato’s Carthago delenda est.

But the restiveness and unease hadn’t affected less educated people. Only occasionally did one feel a tang of bitterness.

Tourists think Tunisia is bland. It may have become so in response to them. Tunis, which is less exposed to tourism than some places, had a prosperous air. It seemed a kind of Nice on the Sahara. I was enchanted by it. The ancient TGM railway followed the line of the suburbs – Carthage was one, each had its own character – on the coast to the north of the city. They were as seductive as they must have been under the Romans.

Direct contact with outside influences made those graduates resentful, but on the whole, the more direct, the better such contact is. What robs less educated people of peace of mind is the vague sense that things are better elsewhere, combined with economic hardship. They start living between two worlds, one of them imaginary.

Most cultures are better than the Maghreb at protecting people from that sense and are further away from what is still called the developed world. North Africa is very close to Europe.

From a BBC story about graduate unemployment in Morocco:

“‘I’m 35, I have a PhD in physics, and I can’t get a job,’ complains Ali.

‘I’m very old, I’m not married, I don’t have my own house, I don’t have anything.

‘I’m thinking of leaving this country, because here I am nothing.’”

Not “I have nothing”, notice. “I am nothing.”  Nothing. This is, literally, nihilism.

“‘I’m a pessimist now,’ says Ali.

‘Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light.’”

Here is some film from a 2007 ITN news source showing blind unemployed Moroccan graduates chaining themselves to the railings of the Parliament building in Rabat to demand more public sector jobs. The following is abbreviated.

“Abdelhak Harmouch, a member of Morocco’s National Committee of Blind Unemployed Graduates, said the protesters had resorted to the drastic measure after more peaceful protest means proved ineffectual. Morocco suffers from mass unemployment with around one million of Morocco’s 30-million population officially unemployed. [That is only the same rate as in the UK.] Joblessness is especially high among graduates after state payroll cuts led to a dearth of public sector jobs. A university degree provides no guarantee for a job and many well-educated Moroccans can remain jobless for years after they finish university. In desperation, some of them try illegal immigration, mainly to Europe, where they hope job prospects will be better. Local human rights organisations and trade unions are fully behind the various organisations representing the unemployed graduates. They believe that with good governance, the state could create jobs for the graduates.”

More protests, Chomeurs de Maroc.

I was once in a taxi in Tunis and told the driver that I liked the city.

“But, of course, there are problems,” I added, just to give some light and shade. To show that I was serious. He turned round to me, startled. He hadn’t been infected by nihilism. “Problèmes, quels problèmes?

My view of Hassan II is reflected here.

Hittistes and clandestins

Maurice Jarre

April 4 2009


Bob Shingleton, in On an Overgrown Path: “My parents’ 1962 LP of the Oscar-winning soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia was an integral part of my music education.”

It was of mine, too, except that, as a boy, after seeing the film, I insisted on being given the LP.

In a Comment, Bob adds: “I have to say I am astonished at the lack of coverage on the music blogs of the death of Maurice Jarre. He may not have been a musical genius – whatever that means. But his music, which was never less than wonderfully crafted, touched many, many more than that of, say, Schoenberg.” On an Overgrown Path is the best blog about so-called classical music on the web, and only a really musical person would have said what Bob said in such unpretentious terms or dared to put him in the same sentence as Schoenberg. The Toynbee convector isn’t a music blog, but Bob’s remark has given me the confidence to write an appreciation of Jarre here.

Jarre’s 1962 score for David Lean’s film was the last major work of French musical orientalism in the line that began with Félicien David’s Symphonic Ode Le désert (tenor, speaker, chorus, orchestra) in 1844.

Le désert at least is usually given as the start of the romantic vein of orientalism in French music. Possibly a couple of Berlioz’s Prix de Rome cantatas, from somewhat earlier (1827-30), should be put into the bracket. I had never heard of a recording of Le désert until just now, but Amazon is showing one as due for release later this month. Marco Polo have recorded other work by David, including piano cycles such as Les brises d’orient and Les minarets.

After that, we have music in the nineteenth century by Reyer, Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Bizet, Massenet et al, much of it not particularly highly-coloured. Franck and Fauré did not really go down the orientalist road, though Franck wrote Les djinns. Then, at another level, Debussy and Ravel, Debussy’s orientalism tending towards Indonesia, where Britten would follow him; and some of the music of Koechlin (who occupied both impressionist and modernist space), and Schmitt, and their contemporary Rabaud, an anti-modernist. I have a 3-CD box of Rabaud’s Mârouf, savetier du Caire, based on the Arabian Nights. Its premiere took place in the final season at the Opéra Comique before war broke out in 1914.

The Saint-Saëns includes, of course, his opera Samson et Dalila. Another, La princesse jaune (one act), is about (without being set in) Japan. Saint-Saëns’s orchestral orientalism was concerned with Egypt and perhaps with Algeria, though Maghreb means west, not east. On the Egyptian side, we have Africa for piano and orchestra, the fifth piano concerto, and Sur les bords du Nil, a piece for brass band. The orchestral Suite algérienne is a gentle celebration of the French in Algeria. There is a Marche dediée aux étudiants d’Alger, I suppose for orchestra or band.

Saint-Saëns often visited Algeria. He died there in 1921. He also visited Ceylon. Somebody once imputed homosexuality to him in public, perhaps thinking of these travels. The composer is said to have snapped back: “Je ne suis pas homosexuel, je suis pédéraste.” Would he have used a piece of jargon like “homosexual”? Did his interlocutor use it first? He married and had two sons, who both died young. His answer was probably accurate. Today he would be advised to state it the other way round.

Few books have been written about Saint-Saëns. The one I have, by Stephen Studd (2003), doesn’t tell this oft-repeated story.

Milhaud, reacting against not only against the later stages of orientalism and not only against French music: “When I first started to write music, I was immediately conscious of the dangers of following the paths of impressionist music: all that haziness, those balmy breezes, those pyrotechnics, those sparkling raiments, those veils of smoke, that languor marked the end of an era I found so affected it filled me with overwhelming disgust. The poets were my salvation. Francis Jammes’ stanzas led me out of the mists of symbolist poetry and introduced me to a completely new world all the easier to apprehend because I had only to open my eyes. Poetry was at last turning back to everyday life, to the appeal of simple people and familiar things.” I can no longer find the source for this quotation: it is probably given by Paul Collaer.

The reaction, shared by many composers, meant that fewer orientalist or orientally-inflected works were written or, if they were, the borrowings were of a different kind, as with Messiaen, whose more grown-up approach to eastern music had been anticipated by Debussy. The middle movement of Ibert’s Escales, published in 1924, called Tunis-Nefta, is in the older manner.

Jarre came very late to music. He was a Lyonnais, but studied engineering at the Sorbonne, before moving to the Conservatoire. He has said that music was nothing in his life before he reached the age of fifteen. He produced his first film score in 1951, but the most important part of his early career was in theatre, as musical director of the Théâtre National Populaire from 1951 to 1963, when it was run by Jean Vilar. There is a 3-CD box containing some of the music he wrote for productions there. Somewhere I have a CD of songs composed for the French post-war theatre, which contains one by Jarre.

The film of 1951 was Georges Franju’s Hôtel des Invalides. There is a CD of some of the film music between 1959 and 1964 called Ma période française. His international breakthrough came with Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. He composed for three more films by David Lean: Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984) and for about 150 films in all. He won Oscars for all the Lean scores except Ryan’s Daughter. His music for The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), about Indonesia in 1965-66, was his first purely electronic score, but he had used the ondes-martinot to fine effect in Lawrence. He lived in the US in his later life.

Lean had wanted Malcolm Arnold to compose the music for Lawrence, while the producer, Sam Spiegel, wanted William Walton. In Tony Palmer’s astonishing film about Arnold (2004), Toward the Unknown Region (“I think it must surely set the nation alight when broadcast”: Paul Driver; Palmer’s films about English music are the less flamboyant successors of Ken Russell’s), Arnold says that he was asked to provide the “dramatic” music and William Walton the “patriotic”. They watched the unscored film together. Both turned it down. I’ve read elsewhere that Walton fell asleep. Lean never spoke to Arnold again.

According to the Telegraph obituary of Jarre, Spiegel, who had heard some of Jarre’s music, then hoped that Jarre would write the “incidental dramatic sequences”, while two better-known composers, Khatchaturian and Britten, would handle the “theme music”. Neither Khatchaturian nor Britten turned out to be available, and can one imagine Britten having done this? Spiegel turned to a Broadway composer, Richard Rodgers, keeping Jarre in the background. Lean strongly disliked what Rodgers produced, so Spiegel asked Jarre if he had written anything. Jarre proceeded to play what became the main theme. Lean insisted that he should be given the whole job. Jarre was left with six weeks to compose, rehearse and record about two hours of music. Arnold could have done it in two.

Writing music for a film that has already been made or to an exact scenario is like the way some ballet music was written in the nineteenth century.

Tchaikovsky was expected to follow Marius Petipa’s scenario for the Nutcracker:

“No. 1. Soft music. Sixty-four bars.

No. 2. The tree is lit up. Sparkling music. Eight bars.

No. 3. Enter the children. Animated and joyous music. Twenty-four bars.

No. 4. A moment of surprise and admiration. A few bars of tremolo.

No. 5. A march. Sixty-four bars.

No. 6. Entrée des Incroyables. Sixteen bars, rococo (tempo menuet).”

And in a film, every bar had to be marked in seconds.

Jarre’s score was to be recorded by the London Philharmonic with a subsidy from the British government, which required the conductor to be British. Adrian Boult was duly brought in for a rehearsal, but when Jarre began to explain the technicalities of synchronising the music of the orchestra with film footage, Boult withdrew and Jarre himself conducted. Boult’s name remained on the film credits to safeguard the subsidy, but Jarre was credited on the LP.

There are two recorded versions of Jarre’s Lawrence music: his own soundtrack with the London Philharmonic and a more recent one conducted by Tony Bremner with the Philharmonia. Bremner’s sound is far better. There are some passages here which do not appear in Jarre’s version. The first appearance of the main theme is even more stomach-punching. But there is something soupy in the way the brass play under Bremner. This is the main defect of this version. And the ppppppppianissimo, if I can coin a word, at the beginning of the section called Miracle under Jarre, which must surely be the quietest sustained note in all of recorded orchestral music, is barely piano.

The theme of Born Free is not so different from, sounds like a variation of, the Lawrence theme, but is merely a vulgarly sentimental film tune.

The Overture in which the Lawrence theme first appears was played before the projector started turning, yet was part of the film. It begins with two bursts of timpani, separated by a rest which already suggests the desert.

With Lawrence, Jarre succeeded Malcolm Arnold as “master of the Lean’s music”. Arnold had written, and won an Oscar for, the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Here we come to a problem. Who wrote the Colonel Bogey march as we know it? Arnold often gets the credit. The Tony Palmer film I’ve referred to credits him. It sounds like Arnold. Others say it was by FJ Ricketts, aka Kenneth Alford. Or that Arnold wrote a counterpoint to the original march. I haven’t worked this out. But Spiegel and Lean used a fine march by Alford in Lawrence of Arabia, The Voice of the Guns, which took the place of what Walton might have written. It was the only music, in the end, not written by Jarre.

The film, of course, had little to do with the real TE Lawrence. Prince Feisal was played by an English actor, Alec Guinness. Lean’s A Passage to India must have been the last somewhat serious film in which a white actor (Alec Guinness again) had his face painted to look like an oriental. It appeared after Richard Attenborough’s hagiographic Gandhi, in which Ben Kingsley played the main role. (In this post, I wondered what the last case was of an Englishman dressing up in real life in Arab service as an Arab.) The march was a counterpoint to the scenes in Cairo and Damascus. Memorable acting by Claude Rains.

What does French orientalist music amount to? Some attractive pieces (the Debussy and Ravel more than that), but there is no descriptive masterpiece among them. Unless it is Jarre’s score.

There is no French tone poem of the Sahara. But some of Jarre’s material could have been used in one. Some passages in his score are as imaginatively detailed as passages in La mer.

That does not mean that you can simply lift this music into a concert hall. Jarre did this occasionally by performing a Lawrence of Arabia “Suite” at gala concerts. It doesn’t work and embarrasses anyone who wants to take Jarre more seriously. This is film music and needs images, or headphones. But some of the musical ideas, if you concentrate enough to hear them, are worthy of the great, unwritten, French tone poem.

According to the French Wikipedia article, “Jarre a aussi composé des œuvres de concert majeures et écrit cinq ballets dont Notre-Dame de Paris pour l’Opéra de Paris”. In the passage in Jarre’s recording called That is the Desert, we hear an embryonic symphonist. Bremner makes nothing of it. None of the other film music that I have heard is as good as Lawrence, even for films that you might have thought would bring out a similar style. But Lara’s theme in Dr Zhivago is his other claim to immortality. It took human beings this long to reach such a simple musical idea.

Jarre deserved the Oscars for Lawrence and Zhivago, but not, I think, the last one, for A Passage to India. The score is recycled Jarre (partly recycled from Ryan’s Daughter), less distinguished, and neither Jarre nor Lean appears to have had the slightest idea what the book was about.

The picture above and the first below show Jarre at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year, where he accepted a prize a few weeks before dying from cancer.

The Lure of the East

L’italiano in Turchia



The flowers of Africa

December 18 2008


Adrian Murdoch has a recent post on Peter Brown’s reception of the Kluge Prize. When I went to Oxford, Brown’s exploration of the reality of late antiquity inspired me. I was not taught by him directly, but I heard him speak and lecture. His work had a grandeur and freshness that were absolutely undonnish. He, for one, didn’t “cough in ink” or “wear the carpet with [his] shoes” – by which Yeats meant wear the carpet spiritually, not wear it out.

There is a bibliography on his Wikipedia page. I read his two early books, the masterly Augustine of Hippo (1967), an incredibly learned work for a man still in his thirties, and The World of Late Antiquity (1971). I hope that Toynbee read the former and took heart from it.

For some reason, this paragraph in Augustine of Hippo stuck in my mind:

“Augustine grew up a sensitive boy, acutely anxious to be accepted, to compete successfully, to avoid being shamed, terrified of the humiliation of being beaten at school. He would play in the fields around Thagaste. There he stalked birds, watched the writhing tails torn off lizards; he thought of thunder as the rattling of the heavy wheels of Roman coaches on the rough flagstones of the clouds. Yet Augustine never mentions the wonderful spring flowers of Africa. His sense of smell was not particularly acute. Mountains appear more often in his works: the light of the rising sun slipping down into the valleys; the sudden view of a distant town from the wooded slopes of a pass. Above all, he was surrounded by light. The African sunlight was the ‘Queen of all Colours pouring down over everything’. He was acutely alive to the effects of light. His only poem is in praise of the warm glow of the Easter Candle.” There are nine footnotes, referring to several sources.

The picture above, of the Capitolium in Thuburbo Majus, about forty miles southwest of Carthage, is from another magical book, Thames & Hudson’s large Roman Africa in Colour, Photographed by Roger Wood, Introduction and commentary by Mortimer Wheeler, 1966, which covers, in the order of plates, Sudan, Egypt, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. (It’s not the whole image: it didn’t fit onto my scanner.) The World of Late Antiquity was also from Thames & Hudson, from its Library of European Civilization, published between 1966 and ’75. Augustine of Hippo was published by Faber.

Arab anglophiles

December 8 2008

All over the Middle East are people, middle managers, who are almost sick with love of England, not because they know it well: they may not have been there since their youth, and certainly have never shopped in Harrods, but because of the weeks they spent with that family in Bromley or Streatham in 1977. [Comments below.]

Hittistes and clandestins

October 28 2008

Robin Yassin-Kassab on rai, Chab Hasni and his friends Qader and Kamel. I wonder whether “chap” could come from “shab”. Also at The National (UAE).

Spain and Macedon

October 24 2008

The Macedonians invited this barbarian invasion [of Gauls in 279 BC; they went on to “cross the Dardanelles and break into the vast Asiatic dominions of Antiochus I”] by their imprudence in first stimulating the European barbarians by an aggressive expansion at their expense in the reign of King Philip Amyntou (regnabat 359-336 B.C.) and then neglecting this reanimated barbarian frontier in order to turn their arms against the Achaemenidae and thereafter against one another. The equivalent event in Early Modern Western history would have been an invasion of Spain on the morrow of the Battle of St. Quentin (commissum 10 August, 1557) [a notable Hapsburg Spanish victory in the Franco-Hapsburg War of 1551-9] by a horde of resurgent Muwahhid [Almohad] Berbers from the Atlas or Murābit [Almoravid] Berbers from the Senegal [or, more likely in the middle of the sixteenth century, Nasrid Berbers from Fez with Saadi allies], with an impetus that we must imagine to have carried these irrupting barbarians on beyond an overrun Spain into Italy in one direction and Mexico in the other. Castile did neglect her Berber frontier when, after the completion of the conquest of Granada in A.D. 1492, she failed to follow up her seizure of this last unsubjugated remnant of Andalusia by a seizure of North-West Africa that was the logical next step in the march of Castilian imperialism. Instead of concentrating all her military efforts on pushing forward to the natural frontier offered by the north shore of the Sahara, she made a few half-hearted descents upon North-West African ports while diverting the best part of her energies to a conquest of the Americas and to a competition with France for the hegemony over Italy. Spain, like Macedon, did pay a penalty for having thus looked back after having put her hand to the plough (Luke ix. 62); she exposed herself to the scourge of a piracy organized by Ottoman corsairs ensconced in North-West African naval bases on which Spain had neglected to secure her own hold. Yet this nuisance was trivial compared to the catastrophe that Macedon brought on herself in 279-276 B.C.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The shot heard round the world 2

July 5 2008

The shot heard round the world 1

The latter part of Toynbee’s public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961.

In the first part he looked at the impact of America’s revolution in other countries. But how direct was its influence? How did it affect the French revolution, which would have happened anyway? The American revolution’s roots were equally in the Enlightenment.

It was an inspiration, an exemplar for overturning a régime, like the Dutch Revolt and the English revolution.

The Marquis de Lafayette helped the Americans in the war of 1775-83 and was in America from 1777 to ’82, with a break in France in 1779. He returned as a hero in 1824-5, visiting every state. The Declaration of Independence influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

In the first extract, Toynbee, who was so aware of the temptations of nationalism, fails, like many nineteenth-century liberals, to distinguish carefully between nationalist and social revolutions, as if freedom from foreign oppression were itself Liberty. He speaks like an old-fashioned man of that century.

The American revolution was social first, national second. The Americans were overthrowing an oppressor, but it was their government and society that these colonies professed to be seeking to reform. What kinds of societies would the peoples who had heard the American “shot” produce?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Once America had separated itself, it became clear that the fragment continued to oppress many of its members.

Toynbee is romantically unrealistic when he recalls the America of 1961, that “leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests”, to its revolutionary traditions in its foreign policy. At one point he seems to defend revolutionary violence. He was especially provocative in implying a sympathy for Castro.

This lecture was, perhaps, a turning-point in his relationship with America, the country that had welcomed him with something like adulation in the late ’40s and the ’50s. His Study of History had seemed to have important things to say to America during its “rise to globalism”. He supported the civil rights movement, and opposed the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s, and his later and bleak view of American foreign policy is reflected here in posts called Neo-colonialism: The view from 1969 and The frontier spirit.

What we are hearing now, above the echoing sound of that American shot, is the answering voice of the mass of mankind. This two-thirds – or is it three-quarters? – of the World’s population is still living only just above the starvation line and is still frequently falling below even that wretched line into death-dealing famine. Since the time when our pre-human ancestors became human, this majority of the human race has never dreamed, before today, that there would ever be any change for the better in its hard lot. Since the dawn of civilization, about 5000 years ago, the World’s peasantry has carried the load of civilization on its back without receiving any appreciable share in civilization’s benefits. These benefits have been monopolized by a tiny privileged minority, and, until yesterday, this injustice was inevitable. Till the modern industrial revolution began to get up steam, technology was not capable of producing more than a tiny surplus after meeting the requirements of bare subsistence. In our time, technology is coming within sight of being able to produce enough of civilization’s material benefits to provide for the whole human race. If technology does make it possible to get rid of the odious ancient difference in fortune between the few rich and the innumerable poor, future generations will perhaps bless the Industrial Revolution in retrospect, and will think kindly of its British, American and German pioneers.

We already have the means for making a start in improving the lot of the great depressed majority of our fellow human beings. But, in the last resort, we human beings have to do things for ourselves. The World’s peasantry cannot hope to improve its lot substantially unless it can awake from its age-old lethargy. It is being awakened at this moment by the sound of that American shot as that sound circles the globe for the third time. That sound has now been heard by the World’s whole depressed majority, and we, the affluent minority, are now hearing the majority’s reply. At last, the majority is shaking off the fatalism that has been paralysing it since the beginning of time. It is becoming alive to the truth that an improvement in its lot is now possible. More than that, it is realizing that it can do something towards this by its own efforts. Go to India; visit some of the thousands of villages there in which the Community Development Plan is already in operation; and you will see, with your own eyes, this new hope and purposefulness and energy breaking into flower. This is, to my mind, the most wonderful sight that there is to be seen in the present-day world. And this world-revolution of the peasantry is the most glorious revolution that there has been in the World’s history so far.

Well, perhaps I ought to have said “the most glorious secular revolution”; for the religious revolutions may have been more glorious; and these may also, in the long run, prove to have had still greater and more beneficent effects. By the religious revolutions I mean the advent of the World’s missionary religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the others. The new world revolution of the peasantry perhaps cannot properly be called a religious revolution. At the same time it is unquestionably a spiritual one. It is true that the objectives that are its first aim are of a material kind. These material objectives are as elementary as they are indispensable for making a start. They are such fundamental things as a concrete lining and lip for the village well, to protect the water from being contaminated; a concrete surface for the village lanes, to redeem them from being wallows of pestilent filth; a dirt-road to link the village up with the nearest main road; and, after that, a village school. When a village reaches the stage of building a school and finding the means to provide a living for a schoolmaster, it is already beginning to raise a spiritual mansion on the preliminary material foundations. Without the foundations, the building could not go up. But the material foundations are a means to a spiritual end. And what could be more obviously spiritual than the awakening of hope and purposefulness and energy that is the driving force behind the whole of this glorious revolution? This driving force is the last and greatest of the revolutionary forces that have been released, all round the World, by the sound of a shot that was fired, on an April day, by embattled American farmers.

This exhilarating sound has not only roused the peoples of the World to action in their own homelands; it has also drawn them, like a magnet, to the land in which the shot was fired and from which the sound has gone forth. For a century, European farmers flocked to the United States in order to become American farmers, and, as the Industrial Revolution got up steam on both sides of the Atlantic, European industrial workers were soon crossing the Atlantic westward in the farmers’ wake. The tide of immigration into the United States began to flow mightily within a few years of the end of the Napoleonic Wars [when there was a severe depression in Europe]. It went on flowing till the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. And, as it flowed, it gathered volume. Before it was abruptly checked in 1914 by the action of the belligerent European governments that were concerned to conserve their cannon-fodder, the annual total of immigrants had risen to about two million in more than one year after the turn of the century.

When I think of this century of massive immigration from Europe into Europe’s American promised land, my mind focuses on my memory’s picture of an old farmer, Bavarian-born, whom I met on my first visit to this country, now nearly thirty-six years ago. His farm was in East Central Kentucky, where I was staying with a college friend of mine. At home in Bavaria, this farmer had had no farm of his own and no prospect of ever acquiring one there. It had been the hope of winning one in the New World that had lured him across the Atlantic. Though he had emigrated while he was still a young man, he had not arrived till some year in the eighteen-nineties, and by that time, of course, all the best land in the state had been taken up long ago. In Kentucky by the eighteen-nineties, settlement had been going on for more than a hundred years. All the same, this Bavarian farmer had come in time still to be a pioneer. In the western foothills of the Appalachians – “the Knobs” is their local name – he had hit upon a valley that was still unreclaimed because no predecessor of his had found it sufficiently inviting. The Bavarian had seized on that valley and had made it fruitful. To transform it had been his life-work. He had not only made it yield him enough for raising a family. By the time his sons were grown up – and there were several of them – the father had also saved enough to be able to buy for each son a better farm than the father’s own. But the old man would never buy a better farm for himself. The valley-farm had been his life-work, and, more than that, it had been his European dream translated into an American reality. As a boy in Bavaria he had dreamed of one day having a farm of his own if he could screw up his courage to pull up his roots and cross the Ocean. In this unpromising valley in Kentucky he had made his farm and his farm had made him. Nothing this side of death would part him from it.

Multiply this Bavarian-American farmer by some millions and you have a revolution inside America to match those revolutions all round the World of which I have given you a breathless catalogue. America’s revolution on her own ground and her revolutions abroad have been like each other in everything that is important in them. They have both been set going by the shot fired in April 1775; they have both been triumphs over social injustice, poverty, and hopelessness. These revolutions are true daughters of the American Revolution, and to have fathered this mighty brood is indeed an achievement to be proud of. And now come the paradox, and, I should also say, the tragedy. At the moment when the sound of that historic American shot was circling this planet for the third time, at the moment when the American revolutionary spirit had come within sight of inspiring the whole human race, America herself disowned paternity, at least for the younger and less decorous batches of her offspring.

It has been suggested recently by at least one American student of American history that America did not wait till the twentieth century to dissociate herself from the World’s response to the resounding American shot’s reverberations. The founding fathers of the United States lived to witness the French Revolution, and at least one of the most eminent of them, John Adams, put on record his repudiation and rejection of the American Revolution’s French eldest daughter after she had jilted Lafayette and had plunged into Jacobinism. I owe my knowledge of the following passage to an article by William Henry Chamberlin in The Wall Street Journal of 31 March 1961. John Adams is quoted by Mr Chamberlin as having said that “Helvetius and Rousseau preached to the French nation liberty till they made them the most mechanical slaves; equality, till they destroyed all equity; humanity, until they became weasels and African panthers; and fraternity, till they cut one another’s throats like Roman gladiators”.

This bitter verdict on the Jacobin revolution gives us some notion of how John Adams and like-minded American contemporaries of his would have reacted to the Communist revolution, if they could have lived to witness this still more violent subsequent response to the echoes of the revolution which the founding fathers themselves had launched. The founding fathers had, no doubt, carried their own revolution just as far as they had intended, and evidently some of them were unwilling to see revolution, either at home or abroad, go even one inch farther. This is indicated by the bitterness of those words of John Adams’s that I have just quoted. But his words are not only bitter; they are also ironic. They bring out the irony of the contrast between intentions and results; and this is one of the perennial ironies of human life. It is seldom indeed that the consequences of human action work out according to plan; and one might venture on the generalization that they never work out as intended when the action is of the violent kind represented by revolution and war. The more violent the initial act, the more likely it will be that its consequences will escape control. Has there ever been a revolution or a war that has produced the results, and none other than the results, that its authors intended and expected? The American revolutionaries, like their French counterparts, and unlike at least one celebrated batch of Roman gladiators [to what is he referring?], were not “too proud to fight”; and they could not fire their shot without its being heard by other ears, and without its being taken as a signal for non-American, and perhaps un-American, action. In illustrating the vanity of human wishes by the example of the Jacobins, John Adams was unconsciously passing judgement on himself as well. Fabula de te narratur is the comment that he invites in retrospect. But Adams’s anti-Jacobin invective, which thus recoils like a boomerang on Adams himself, leaves his co-founding father Jefferson unscathed. Jefferson recognized that the price of political liberty would be “turbulence”, and he was not distressed by this prospect. “I hold,” he wrote to Madison, “that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“Too proud to fight” was a phrase used by Woodrow Wilson to defend American neutrality in the First World War. It was immediately used against him.

Thus Adams’s conservatism was not shared by all the founding fathers; and Emerson was not the first American to acclaim the World Revolution and to recognize it as being the American Revolution’s offspring. America had already given a blessing to the late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century revolutions in Europe which it would be difficult for her ever to revoke, since it has been written into the map of American place-names. The names of the Corsican, Greek, Polish, and Hungarian revolutionary leaders Paoli, Ypsilandi, Kosciusko, and Kossuth have been thus immortalized. On the other hand, no Leninburg or Trotskyville has ever jumped out of the map of the United States to catch my eye. Of course there is less room for putting new names on this map nowadays than there used to be. Yet, if tomorrow a new territory of the United States were to be staked out on the face of the Moon, I do not think that any of the mushroom cities there would be likely to be called Fidel, though Fidel is really rather a beautiful name if American lips could pronounce it dispassionately.

Today America is no longer the inspirer and leader of the World Revolution, and I have an impression that she is embarrassed and annoyed when she is reminded that this was her original mission. No one else laid this mission upon America. She chose it for herself, and for one hundred and forty-two years, reckoning from the year 1775, she pursued this revolutionary mission with an enthusiasm which has proved deservedly infectious. By contrast, America is today the leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests. She now stands for what Rome stood for. Rome consistently supported the rich against the poor in all foreign communities that fell under her sway; and, since the poor, so far, have always and everywhere been far more numerous than the rich, Rome’s policy made for inequality, for injustice, and for the least happiness of the greatest number. America’s decision to adopt Rome’s role has been deliberate, if I have gauged it right. It has been deliberate, yet, in the spirit that animates this recent American movement in reverse, I miss the enthusiasm and the confidence that made the old revolutionary America irresistible. Lafayette pays a high psychological price when he transforms himself into Metternich. Playing Metternich is not a happy role. It is not a hero’s role, and not a winner’s, and the player knows it. But, in those early nineteenth-century years when the real Metternich was fighting his losing battle to shore up the rickety edifice of restored “legitimacy”, who in the World would have guessed that America, of all countries, would one day cast herself for Metternich’s dreary part?

What has happened? The simplest account of it is, I suppose, that America has joined the minority. In 1775 she was in the ranks of the majority, and this is one reason why the American Revolution has evoked a world-wide response. For the non-American majority of the majority, the American revolutionary appeal has been as attractive as it was for eighteenth-century America herself. Eighteenth-century America was still appreciably poorer than the richest of the eighteenth-century West European countries: Britain, Holland, the Austrian Netherlands, France. No doubt America was, even then, already considerably richer than Asia or Africa; yet, even measured by this standard, her wealth at that time was not enormous. What has happened? While the sound of the shot fired beside the bridge at Concord has been three times circling the globe, and has each time been inciting all people outside America to redouble their revolutionary efforts, America herself has been engaged on another job than the one that she finished on her own soil in 1783. She has been winning the West and has been mastering the technique of industrial productivity. In consequence, she has become rich beyond all precedent. And, when the American sputnik’s third round raised the temperature of the World Revolution to a height that was also unprecedented, America felt herself impelled to defend the wealth that she had now gained against the mounting revolutionary forces that she herself had first called into existence.

What was the date at which America boxed the compass in steering her political course? As I see it, this date is pin-pointed by three events: the reaction in the United States to the second Russian revolution of 1917 and the two United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924.

The American reaction to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was not, of course, peculiar to the American people. It was the same as the reaction of the rich people in all countries. Only, in the United States, it was a nation-wide reaction, because, in the United States, the well-to-do section of the population had become, by that time, a large majority, not the small minority that the rich have been and still are in most other parts of the World so far.

Rich people, not only in the United States but everywhere, have, I think, taken Communism in a very personal way. They have seen in Communism a threat to their pocket-books. So Communism, even when it has raised its head in some far-away country, has not felt to the rich like a foreign affair; the threat has seemed close and immediate, like the threat from gangsters in the streets of one’s home town. I think this explains the fact – and I am sure this is the fact – that Russian Communist aggression has got under the skins of the well-to-do in the Western World, while German nationalist aggression has not angered them to the same degree. This relative complacency towards German aggressiveness, as contrasted with the violence of the reaction to Russian aggressiveness, has made an impression on me because, I confess, it makes me bristle. I have noticed it among the rich minority in my own country, and I have noticed it still more among a wider circle of people in the United States. It is a rather startling piece of self-exposure. It is startling because, among the various dangers with which we have been threatened in our time, the danger to our personal property is not the one that we ought really to take most tragically. As a matter of fact, the well-to-do Western middle class would have been fleeced economically by the Germans, as thoroughly as this could be done by any Communists, if Germany had happened to win either the first or the second world war – and Germany came within an ace of winning each of these wars in turn. But the tragic loss that would have been inflicted on the Western World by a German victory would have been the loss of our political and our spiritual liberty. In two fearful wars that have been brought upon us by Germany within the span of a single life-time, we have saved our liberty at an immense loss in infinitely precious human lives. We have had no war with Russia in our life-time, and the Western and the Communist camp are not doomed to go to war with each other, though at present the common threat of self-annihilation in an atomic third world war hangs over us all.

Of course someone might reply to what I have just been saying by admitting the whole of my indictment of Germany but pointing out, at the same time, that Russia, too, threatens our political and spiritual freedom, besides threatening just our pockets. This is true. Yet, if I had to make the terrible choice between being conquered by a nationalist Germany and being conquered by a Communist Russia, I myself would opt for Russian Communism as against German nationalism. I would opt for it as being the less odious of the two régimes to live under. Nationalism, German or other, has no aim beyond the narrow-hearted aim of pursuing one’s own national self-interest at the expense of the rest of the human race. By contrast, Communism has in it an element of universalism. It does stand in principle for winning social justice for that great majority of mankind that has hitherto received less than its fair share of the benefits of civilization. I know very well that, in politics, principle is never more than partially translated into practice; I know that the generous-minded vein in Communism is marred by the violent and intolerant-minded vein in it. I also recognize that Communism in both Russia and China has been partly harnessed to a Russian and a Chinese nationalism that is no more estimable than German nationalism or any other nationalism is. Yet, when all this has been said, I still find myself feeling that the reaction of rich individuals and rich nations in the West to Communism since 1917 has been an “acid test”, to use President Wilson’s memorable words [the phrase is used in his Fourteen Points]. Anyway, it is, I think, indisputable that the reaction in the United States to Communism in and since the year 1917 has been a symptom of a reversal of America’s political course. It is a sign, I think, that the American people is now feeling and acting as a champion of an affluent minority’s vested interests, in dramatic contrast to America’s historic role as the revolutionary leader of the depressed majority of mankind.

The United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 are, I believe, pointers to the same change in the American people’s attitude during and immediately after the First World War. Naturally I realize the urgent practical considerations that moved the Administration and the Congress to enact this legislation. The First World War had just brought to light a disturbing feature in this country’s domestic life: I mean, the persistence of the hyphen. [He means in phrases such as Italian-American and Irish-American.] An appreciable number of United States citizens, and of immigrants who were on their way to becoming citizens, had proved still to have divided loyalties. The American melting-pot had not yet purged out of their hearts the last residue of their hereditary attachment to their countries of origin on the European side of the Atlantic. There was evidently a long road still to travel before the process of assimilation would be completed, and this race between assimilation and immigration might never be won for Americanism unless the annual intake of immigrants were drastically reduced. Moreover, the pre-war immigrants were under criticism not only for still being pulled two ways by divided loyalties; they were also under suspicion of perhaps not being representative samples of the best European human material. The introduction of an annual quota would enable the United States Bureau of Immigration to sift the candidates for admission and to select those who promised to make the best future American citizens, and the policy of restriction was thus recommended by a eugenic motive as well as by a political one.

These considerations, by themselves, would have made some measure of restriction and selection desirable after the First World War anyway. But the main motive for the enactment of the acts of 1921 and 1924 was, I believe, a different one. Europe had just been ravaged by a war of unprecedented magnitude and severity. European belligerent governments had stopped their subjects from emigrating in order to conserve their supplies of cannon-fodder. And, now that the war was over, it was feared in the United States that the flow of immigration would start again, and this time in an unprecedented volume. A flood of penniless Europeans might pour into the United States in quest of fortunes in the New World to compensate for ruin in the Old World, and this probable rush of millions of European paupers to win a share in America’s prosperity was felt to be a menace to the economic interests of the existing inhabitants of the United States, who had a monopoly of America’s wealth at present.

If I am right in this diagnosis of the main motive for the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924, the American people went on the defensive at this time against the impact of European immigration for the same reason that made America react so strongly against Communism. Both these reactions were those of a rich man who is concerned to defend his private property against the importunity of a mass of poorer people who are surging all round him and are loudly demanding a share in the rich man’s wealth.

What would have been the effects on America’s economic life if immigration into the United States had been left, down to this day, as free as it was during the century ending in 1921? Presumably the present population of the United States would have been much larger than it actually is, but it does not necessarily follow that the average income per head would have been lower. Experience tells us that a country’s total annual product is not a fixed amount. It may be increased by various factors. One of these stimuli to production may be a steep rise in the volume of population through a reinforcement of the natural increase by immigration. For example, the massive and unrestricted immigration into West Germany from East Germany since the end of the Second World War has been one, at least, of the causes of West Germany’s unexpected and surprising post-war economic prosperity. On this analogy it is conceivable that the economic effects of the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 was contrary to the legislators’ intentions and expectations. While conserving the previous income per head of the existing population of the United States, the immigration restriction acts may have prevented the income per head from rising so fast and so high as it might have done if immigration had been left unrestricted. A continuance of unrestricted immigration might also perhaps have saved the United States from the great depression of the nineteen-thirties. These are hypothetical questions which even an economist might find it hard to answer, and I am not an economist. But I would suggest to you that, whatever the economic consequences of those immigration restriction acts may have been, these economic consequences have not been the most important. The political and psychological consequences have, I should say, counted for more, and these non-economic consequences have, I should also say, been unfortunate for America as well as for Europe.

So long as immigration into the United States from Europe was unrestricted, America’s ever open door kept America in touch with the common lot of the human race. The human race, as a whole, was poor, as it still is; and America was then still a poor man’s country. She was a poor man’s country in the stimulating sense of being the country that was the poor man’s hope. She was the country, of all countries, in which a poor immigrant could look forward to improving his economic position by his own efforts. America did not, of course, even then, offer this opportunity to immigrants from the whole of the Old World. The opportunity was always restricted to immigrants from one small corner of the Old World, namely Europe. All the same, so long as America still offered herself as even just the European poor man’s hope, she retained her footing as part of the majority of the human race. In so far as she has closed her doors since 1921, she has cut herself off from the majority. This self-insulation is the inevitable penalty of finding that one has become rich and then taking steps to protect one’s new-found well-being. The impulse to protect wealth, if one has it, is one of the natural human impulses. It is not particularly sinful, but it automatically brings a penalty with it that is out of proportion to its sinfulness. This penalty is isolation. It is a fearful thing to be isolated from the majority of one’s fellow-creatures, and this will continue to be the social and moral price of wealth so long as poverty continues to be the normal condition of the World’s ordinary men and women.

I will close this first lecture in the present series by trying to drive this point home in a piece of fantasy. Let us imagine a transmigration of souls in reverse. Let us slip our own generation’s souls into the bodies of the generation of 1775, and then set the reel of history unwinding with this change in its make-up. The result that we shall obtain by this sleight of hand will be startlingly different from the actual course of events in 1775 and thereafter. The Declaration of Independence will now be made, not in Philadelphia, but at Westminster. King George III will raise his standard, not at the Court of St. James’s, but at Independence Hall (of course that building will not bear its historic revolutionary name; it will be called “Royal Hall” or “Legitimacy Hall” or some other respectable conservative name of the kind). The other George, George Washington, will take command of his royal namesake’s army. There will be no Continental Congress here in Philadelphia for George Washington to serve. The revolutionary parliament will be on the other side of the Ocean. It will be at Westminster. And the revolutionary leader will not be a George, but a Charles, namely Charles James Fox. The bridge beside which the embattled farmers will fire their shot will not be the bridge at Concord. The flood that it spans will be the Thames. The shot will be heard round the World, but it will be an Old-World shot, not a New-World one.

This nonsense that I have just been talking will have had its use if it has illustrated my thesis. I am maintaining that, since 1917, America has reversed her role in the World. She has become the arch-conservative power instead of the arch-revolutionary one. Stranger still, she has made a present of her glorious discarded role to the country which was the arch-conservative power in the nineteenth century, the country which, since 1946, has been regarded by America as being America’s Enemy Number One. America has presented her historic revolutionary role to Russia.

Is this reversal of roles America’s irrevocable choice? Is it a choice that she can afford to make? And, if she were to change her mind once again, would it now still be possible for America to rejoin her own revolution after having parted company with it forty-four years ago? I shall be taking up these questions in the second and third lectures in this series.

The second and third lectures were called The Handicap of Affluence and Can America Re-Join Her Own Revolution? The first, of which I have quoted all but the opening in these two posts, was called The Shot Heard round the World.

For the first post, I referred to the extract in EWF Tomlin, editor, Arnold Toynbee, A Selection from His Works, with an introduction by Tomlin, OUP, 1978, posthumous.

For this post, ie the remainder of the lecture, I referred to Questia’s online version of America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962, which prints three sets of lectures given in different places in the New World in 1961 and ’62. The quotation from Jefferson is garbled here. I have corrected it. I have presumptively corrected one or two other mistakes: texts on Questia are not page-images and are not reliable. The Pennsylvania lectures were printed in the UK on their own as America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962.

America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962

The shot heard round the world 1

July 4 2008

In public lectures delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961, Toynbee reminded his audience of “the revolutionary tradition which the United States had inaugurated and which she needed to re-join if she were to continue to play a positive role in the world” (EWF Tomlin).

I am just old enough to remember the time when Britain was still rich and strong enough to be the principal target for poorer and weaker peoples’ malice. Baiting is one of mankind’s oldest games, but the victim has to be a substantial one if the game is to be fun. Twisting the lion’s tail ceases to be rewarding if the lion shrinks to the size of a cat; but if a buzzard swells to the size of an eagle, it then becomes worthwhile to pull out the bird’s tail-feathers. It is not easy to adjust oneself to a rapid decrease in one’s wealth and power, but the transition is eased by one consoling form of relief. In being relieved of power and wealth, one is automatically relieved from odium. Experto crede. I am speaking from my own country’s experience in my own lifetime. We have been released from the odium that used to hang round Britain’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s murdered albatross. The neck that is now adorned by the corpse of that albatross is America’s. When we British look at America nowadays, our feelings are mixed. We feel consoled for the recent change in our position in the world; at the same time we sympathize with you for the change in your position. I do hope that the second of these two feelings will make itself obvious to you in this present course of lectures by a British speaker. In examining America’s situation in the World today, I can say, with my hand on my heart, that my feelings are sympathetic, not malicious. After all, mere regard for self-interest, apart from any more estimable considerations, would deter America’s allies from wishing America ill. If, absit omen, America were to be worsted by her present ordeal, this would be as great a misfortune for her friends and associates as it would be for America herself.

I suppose many of us in this room have stood, more than once in our lives, on the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, and have then crossed the bridge to read, engraved on a bronze plaque, a poem that we already knew by heart. As far as I remember, I first got to know this poem of Emerson’s through being given it, at school, to translate into Greek verse. The school was in England, not in America. The date must have been about 1905. That would be one hundred and thirty years after the day on which the historic shot had been fired by embattled American farmers. That was time enough to have made it possible for English schoolmasters and English schoolboys to look back at what had happened in April 1775 without having our vision blurred by irrelevant national sore feelings. What thrilled us, in England in 1905, at the sound of that shot, was the point that has been put inimitably by Emerson in the eight monosyllabic words of his immortal line. We forgot that the shot had been aimed at red-coats. We remembered that it had been heard round the world. That shot now meant for us, too, what it had meant for your ancestors. I myself, for instance, made my pilgrimage to the bridge at Concord the first time I visited the United States, which was in 1925.

A poet knows how to sum up in one line what it takes an historian at least several pages to recite. Within these last one hundred and eighty-six years the sound of that American shot has been travelling round and round the globe like a Russian sputnik. It had been heard in France before the eighteenth century was over. It was heard in Spanish America and in Greece while the nineteenth century was still young. In 1848, when the nineteenth century was not yet quite half spent, the sound reverberated, like a thunderclap, over the whole of Continental Europe. It was heard in Italy, and Italy arose from the dead. The Italian Risorgimento was evoked by that American shot. The sound was heard in Paris again in 1871; this time the Commune was Paris’s response to it. Travelling on eastward, the sound touched off the Russian revolution of 1905, the Persian revolution of 1906, and the Turkish revolution of 1908. By that date it had already roused the Founding Fathers of the Indian National Congress. I believe, by the way, that the original instigator of the Indian Congress Movement was an Englishman [he is thinking of Allan Octavian Hume or William Wedderburn]. If I am right about this, that Englishman launched a far bigger movement than he can have realized at the time. The Indian Congress Movement has been the mother of all the independence movements in all the Asian and African countries that, till recently, have been under the rule of West European colonial powers. But, anyway, whoever may deserve the credit for having started the Indian Congress Movement, the inspiration of it came from the sound of that American shot as this sound travelled over the Indian sub-continent on its eastward course. By this time it had gathered a speed that must have been greater than the speed of light. By 1911, the year in which the sound was heard in China, it had already been heard on the far side of the pacific, in Mexico. It had already touched off the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

By 1910, the eastward-travelling American sputnik had come round, full circle, to re-visit the New World. But it did not stop at that point. Its momentum was still unexhausted. It sped forward for the second time over the Atlantic to re-awaken the Old World’s seven sleepers with still more thunderous reverberations than it had detonated at its first visitation. In 1917 Russia heard that American sound for the second time, and this time she heard it with a vengeance. Turkey heard it for the second time after the end of the First World War, and this time the sound touched off the radical Westernizing Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Compared with this second Turkish revolution of 1919-’28, the Turkish revolution of 1908 had been half-hearted. In April 1923, just one hundred and forty-eight years after the firing of that shot, far away, at the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, I heard the sound reach Ankara, Turkey’s new capital, where I happened, at that moment, to find myself. There and then, I was given an inkling of what it must have felt like to be in the streets of Paris in 1789 or beside the bridge at Concord in 1775.

The sound did not flag or falter. It went on making its second circuit of the globe. In China, in 1948, its second visitation produced the same enormously enhanced effects as its previous second visitations in Russia and in Turkey. Speeding across the Pacific for the second time, the indefatigable sound called the Bolivian miners to arms and roused the Guatemalan peasants to demand a re-distribution of the land. In 1960 it roused the peasants of Cuba. Fidel Castro must have been surprised and gratified by the attention that he has won for himself in the United States. He has had the advantage of standing so close to the American people’s ear that, by shouting into it, he has been able to make it tingle. He wanted to annoy America, and he succeeded. But, if he had not had the luck to be so close to you, his oratory would have been drowned; for, before the end of 1960, the sound of the embattled American farmers’ shot had crossed the Atlantic for the third time and had roused up the whole of Africa from Sharpeville to Algiers.

At this moment at which I am speaking to you here in this room, I am surprised that I have succeeded, like Fidel Castro, in making my annoying words heard above that other sound’s roar. For, by now, the sound of the embattled farmers’ shot “is gone out through all the Earth”, to quote the Psalmist’s words. The noise has become world-wide and it has become deafening. Jefferson hit the mark when he said that “the disease of liberty is catching”.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.”

Emerson wrote Concord Hymn in 1836 for the dedication of the Obelisk, a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts that commemorated the contributions of area citizens at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19 1775, the first battle of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4 1776. Emerson’s grandfather was at the bridge on the day of the battle; their family home, The Old Manse, was next to the bridge; and Emerson is known to have written the hymn while living there. And in 1837, the hymn was sung during Concord’s Fourth of July celebration to one of the greatest tunes ever composed: the Old Hundredth.

America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962

L’italiano in Turchia

June 9 2008

This post is a really a continuation of yesterday’s.

A few weeks ago a friend asked:

“Are you also blogging as Murat Iyigün?”

Murat Iyigün’s May 13 post, under the heading Donizetti Pașa, read:

“Gaetano Donizetti is the well-known, early-19th century Italian opera composer. His older brother, Giuseppe Donizetti might have established a lesser reputation in the Occident, but he surely made his mark in the Orient.

“How he did is an interesting parable on the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to westernize, at a time when the European economic takeoff was becoming undeniable and the decaying empire was at the grip of an ecclesiastical [ecclesiastical?] identity crisis.

“While the European Industrial Revolution did not begin in full swing until the mid-[surely late-]18th century, the relative decline of the Ottomans and the rise of its western neighbors had begun to yield ubiquitous signs as early as the late-16th century. There is no doubt that the economic awakening of the West and the relative stagnation of the once-mighty Ottomans was a source of cognitive dissonance for the Ottomans. This explains why the prototype reformist Ottoman sultans, such as Osman II and Murad IV, primarily acted upon the premise of western inferiority and their instincts typically involved a stronger emphasis on the Muslim-Ottoman fundamentals.

“As western advances continued unabated and the Ottoman stagnation became undeniable, the distinction between ‘modernization’ and ‘westernization’ started to blur for Ottoman rulers. This is the setting in which Mahmud II begun his ambitious reform plan in the early-19th century, covering all facets of Ottoman life, but primarily focused on the military, political and economic spheres. With the belief in the superiority of all things Ottoman and Islamic long gone, Mahmud’s reform attempts now reflected the ‘dominance of all things western.’ Thus, when his attention turned to revamping the Ottoman military, Mahmud decided that western style military uniforms and a military band would help. This is when the empire tapped a Sicilian named Giuseppe Donizetti.

“Giuseppe Donizetti played a significant role in the introduction of European music to the Ottoman military. Apart from overseeing the training of the European-style military bands of Mahmud’s army, he taught music at the palace to the members of the Ottoman royal family, the princes and the ladies of the harem, is believed to have composed the first national anthem of the Ottoman Empire, supported the annual Italian opera season in Pera (a quaint district of Istanbul), organized concerts and operatic performances at court, and played host to a number of eminent virtuosi who visited Istanbul at the time, such as Franz Liszt, Parish Alvars and Leopold de Meyer.

“By the time he passed away in 1856, Donizetti had attained the Ottoman rank of paşa and he is now buried in the vaults of the St. Esprit Cathedral, near Beyoğlu, Istanbul.”


The friend who sent me this should have said that it sounds like Toynbee. Toynbee would have written it more precisely. (He was probably referring to my ability to drag composers at will into strange contexts.)

Toynbee was interested in the fact that non-Western societies “modernised” themselves along quasi-Western lines in response to the challenge of the “West”. But Murat Iyigün’s post reminded me of Bernard Lewis. I got home and picked up What Went Wrong? There, over three not very dense or piquant pages, was that story of Donizetti frère.

Lewis doesn’t mention that the first opera ever staged in Turkey was Gaetano Donizetti’s Belisario, in 1840.

Or that, later, Paul Hindemith was enlisted by the Turks in the cause of modernisation. He made several visits to Ankara in the 1930s, in the service of Atatürk, to advise on musical education at the State Conservatory.

Giuseppe Donizetti’s presence in Constantinople is presented as evidence of a decline. “When a foreign influence appears in something as central to a culture as an imperial foundation and a cathedral-mosque, there is clearly some faltering of cultural self-confidence.”

Why is Bernard Lewis’s lucidly-written book troubling? What is the dreariness that hangs over it? Something feels not right even before one disagrees in detail. Is it only that one has absorbed the propaganda of the anti-Lewisites? It was patronisingly and provocatively titled. It was published in 2002, post-9/11, but pre-Iraq. It was written pre-9/11, but not “long” before, as Said claims.

Lewis was originally British, and Jewish, but lives in the US. He is the Cleveland E Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. At 92, he may be the world’s oldest somewhat active historian. Toynbee’s biographer William McNeill is 90. So is Robert Conquest. Eric Hobsbawm is 91 today.

No doubt Lewis’s essentially Ottoman, rather than Arab, specialisation made him into more of a historian of decline than he would have been if he had been a true Arabist. He has been called “the neocon’s historian”. Who was his most eloquent critic? Edward Said. Said was attacking Lewis as early as 1978, in Orientalism. At a roundtable in Egypt in 2003 reported by Al Ahram Weekly, the English weekly edition of Al Ahram, a few months before he died, Said said: “Bernard Lewis hasn’t set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I’m told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world.” Though he does speak Turkish and Arabic.

Lewis has attacked the ideas in Orientalism. A grand attack came only last year, with Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West, which I mentioned in the last post. This is, in the end, polemic. Said and Scruton also offer polemic. So does Lewis. But Scruton is at least a trained philosopher, unlike Warraq. The problem with Warraq is that, learned as he sometimes appears to be, he gets carried away. It is beyond ridiculous to call Gérôme – the man who, with Bouguereau, brought French academic painting to a climax in the nineteenth century – as he does in the final paragraph, one of “the great Western artists”: anyone who reads that first would be immediately excused for reading no further. (There is a website – Art Renewal – which tries to make points like this. One of so many US sites and foundations which hijack old European things to make them serve narrow agendas.)

Here is an article by Warraq in the journal I called slightly-suspect in the last post, when linking to something by Scruton in it. And here is an attack by Bernard Lewis on Saidian Orientalism in The New York Review of Books (but you need to buy it).

If you want a sense of Said versus Lewis and don’t want to struggle with Orientalism, have a look at his review of What Went Wrong? in Harper’s, July 2002. It also reviews, with faint praise, Karen Armstrong’s Islam, A Short History. Unlike Lewis, Armstrong has quite a good reputation in the Arab world. Her book had appeared in 2000. It was reprinted in 2002, to cash in on post-9/11.

Said touches on music.

“When Lewis’s book was reviewed in the New York Times by no less an intellectual luminary than Yale’s Paul Kennedy, there was only uncritical praise, as if to suggest that the canons of historical evidence should be suspended where ‘Islam’ is the subject. Kennedy was particularly impressed with Lewis’s assertion, in an almost totally irrelevant chapter on ‘Aspects of Cultural Change,’ [that’s the one that mentions Donizetti frère] that alone of all the cultures of the world Islam has taken no interest in Western music. Quite without any justification at all, Kennedy then lurched on to lament the fact that Middle Easterners had deprived themselves even of Mozart! For that indeed is what Lewis suggests (though he doesn’t mention Mozart). Except for Turkey and Israel, ‘Western art music,’ he categorically states, ‘falls on deaf ears’ in the Islamic world.

“Now, as it happens, this is something I know quite a bit about, but it would take some direct experience or a moment or two of actual life in the Muslim world to realize that what Lewis says is a total falsehood, betraying the fact that he hasn’t set foot in or spent any significant time in Arab countries. Several major Arab capitals have very good conservatories of Western music: Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Tunis, Rabat, Amman – even Ramallah on the West Bank. These have produced literally thousands of excellent Western-style musicians who have staffed the numerous symphony orchestras and opera companies that play to sold-out auditoriums all over the Arab world. There are numerous festivals of Western music there, too, and in the case of Cairo (where I spent a great deal of my early life more than fifty years ago) they are excellent places to learn about, listen to, and see Western instrumental and vocal music performed at quite high levels of skill. The Cairo Opera House has pioneered the performance of opera in Arabic, and in fact I own a commercial CD of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro sung most competently in Arabic. I am a decent pianist and have played, studied, written about, and practiced that wonderful instrument all of my life; the significant part of my musical education was received in Cairo from Arab teachers, who first inspired a love and knowledge of Western music (and, yes, of Mozart) that has never left me. In addition, I should also mention that for the past three years I have been associated with Daniel Barenboim in sponsoring a group of young Arab and Israeli musicians to come together for three weeks in the summer to perform orchestral and chamber music under Barenboim (and in 1999 with Yo-Yo Ma) at an elevated, international level. All of the young Arabs received their training in Arab conservatories. How could Barenboim and I have staffed the West-Östlicher Diwan workshop, as it is called, if Western music had fallen on such deaf Muslim ears? Besides, why should Lewis and Kennedy use the supposed absence of Western music as a club to beat ‘Islam’ with anyway? Isn’t there an enormously rich panoply of Islamic musics to take account of instead of indulging in this ludicrous browbeating?”


I can vouch for the sold-out performances at the Cairo Opera House. That house (1988, Japanese architect) is the successor of the Khedivial Opera House, where Aida had its first performance in 1871 and which burned down in 1971. There are people in Cairo who never miss a chance to hear Western music. They are a very small minority, but are part of the scene, and often young.

Opera, and Western art generally, in the UAE is another subject. It now gets huge investment, far more than any subsidy in Europe, but it’s pretty hard to discern any underlying interest. It seems more a case of buying in, in a very UAE way, more Western luxury goods.

Warraq has a section on Mozart. He doesn’t mention (there would have been no point to be made in doing so) his unfinished opera buffa, L’oca del Cairo, The Goose of Cairo – which sounds like a kind of dry run for Figaro.

Edward Said had a commercial CD of Figaro sung in Arabic. I have a 3-CD box of Cosí fan tutte, also “most competently” sung – but I won’t claim that Arabic ideally suits the music. Opera in the Middle East tends to be in Italian.

In the ’80s I saw a Turkish opera at the Turkish State Opera at the Atatürk Cultural Centre in Istanbul: a nationalist affair. In the early ’90s, an American friend of mine spent several months conducting there.

On May 27 2006 I managed to attend the 250th-birthday concert of Mozart at the Cairo Opera House, played by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. 70% or more of the players were Egyptian.